Noma’s Redzepi Looks Ahead to Life After Ants in London
Chef Rene Redzepi served more than 3,500 diners, including celebrities such as Stephen Hawking, Stephen Fry and Jamie Oliver, at Claridge’s in London during a 10-day pop-up version of his Copenhagen restaurant Noma.
That’s how many customers Redzepi, 34, feeds in five months back home in Denmark, where his small, waterside venue has been named the World’s Best Restaurant for three straight years.
Over breakfast on his final day at Claridge’s, on Aug. 6, we discussed how things went in London, what comes next and why his 195 pound menu ($305) featured live ants.
Vines: How was your time at Claridge’s?
Redzepi: It’s been many levels above what I expected. My personal experience, meeting 100 staff members that you’ve never worked with before, seeing the producers, tasting the fresh produce from here, meeting the Londoners -- they’ve been so gracious. I’m so positively surprised and I’m even feeling a bit sad to leave.
Vines: When you were in the dining room, you were almost mobbed for autographs. How do you handle that?
Redzepi: At home, it’s not like that at all. It’s a strange thing and you don’t realize that in this city it seems that a successful chef can have a status with the general public that’s just mind-boggling. It’s crazy and then it’s a bit overwhelming so I shy away a bit. I think that’s the way to do it: Just keep it real and stay yourself and to try to enjoy it for the moment.
Vines: How do the numbers in Claridge’s compare with Noma?
Redzepi: There, it’s 35 for lunch and about 40 for dinner. And here it’s 360 a day almost. We have between 30,000 and 100,000 requests a month. We have 550 or 570 tables a month. So we could fill many more restaurants. The Saturday before we came, we had 1,200 people on the waitlist for dinner. Five years ago, we could have a Saturday lunch with zero guests.
Vines: How about the ants on the London menu?
Redzepi: Besides Noma, we have this Nordic Food Lab, where we study larger topics within food and one of them is called, “Why don’t we eat insects in the Western World?” In Europe, we found new, surprising flavors and one of them is this ant that tastes so strongly of lemon and lemongrass. To us it was like entering into a room of flavors we didn’t know existed.
Vines: It’s still the dish that caused most surprise here. Did you expect that?
Redzepi: Of course. It’s taboo food: You’re eating a bug.
Vines: So were you concerned?
Redzepi: No, I wasn’t. It’s also about having fun. I knew that would break the barriers. There would be lots of people sitting, presumably not knowing each other, and suddenly they had to see each other being a little bit afraid. It’s like when you go to Finland and you go into an important meeting and 30 minutes after you landed you’re in the sauna naked with all the people. But I was more interested in people having the surprise of the flavor.
Vines: I wonder if coming here and using different ingredients, the Noma formula but in a different place, whether that would work somewhere else.
Redzepi: Of course. The philosophy and the enthusiasm we know now can be adapted anywhere, especially in London or Great Britain because we are two proud Protestant cultures that share many things, that share many food values and we complain about the weather in the same way. We’re like weather cousins. I would say if there were one place it could work, it would be here.
Vines: So would you open another restaurant?
Redzepi: This was a perfect opportunity to see what it takes of me personally to open a restaurant without opening a restaurant, because that’s what we did here. I can tell you that I really have loved it here. It’s been a life experience to me but I’m not ready to allow myself the time away from Noma.
Vines: So that’s a no?
Redzepi: That’s a no.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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