Restaurants

How the Humble Taco Inspired a $750 Mexican Meal

Chef Rene Redzepi is taking Noma to the Tropics and bookings will be hotter than habaneros.

Rene Redzepi (center) and the Noma Mexico team.

Source: Vincent Long via Noma

Rene Redzepi, the foraging Danish chef behind Noma, traveled across Mexico to plan for his forthcoming pop-up restaurant on the Yucatán Peninsula. He tasted an array of fresh fish, platanos, and even some delicious insects.

But the most important ingredient Redzepi knew he had to incorporate?

The taco — or at least the corn-based masa dough behind some of the country's best-loved staples.

"It is simply the most influential piece of food in central America," Redzepi said. "We will give it our best shot."

Reservations for Noma Mexico will open up on Tuesday at 10 a.m. East Coast time, and if the restaurant's previous trips abroad are any guide, slots for the seven-week "residency" will sell out fast. When Noma opened in Tokyo in 2015, there was a waiting list of 60,000 people for the five-week run. In Sydney last year, there were outstanding requests for 27,000 tables during a 10-week residency. Both sold out in minutes.

Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

Live ants were served during Noma's pop-up at Claridge's in London.

Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

Don't expect the menu to look like anything you've ever seen at a Mexican restaurant. Especially not for $600 per person, which includes food and drinks. The bill climbs to $750 if you include 16% local tax and 9% tip.

For one thing, insects will be on the menu. When Redzepi served a dish with live ants during a pop-up in London in 2012, diners were shocked. He's not expecting such a reaction in Mexico, where grasshoppers, ant eggs, and wasp larvae are among the delicacies he has sampled.

"No one blinks here if you eat an ant," he said. "It's like ordering a flat white."

Another staple — platanos — will be on the menu, but in an unusual fashion.

"One dish we have tested and are going to put on the menu will sound incredibly weird, but it is delicious," Redzepi said. "It's a ceviche of a large clam, sliced very thin and mixed with thinly sliced banana."

Screen Shot 2016-12-02 at 9.41.46 AM

Rosio Sanchez and Rene Redzepi

Source: Vincent Long via Noma

Redzepi said the dish goes against everything he learned growing up in Denmark and serving as an apprentice in a French restaurant, where he was told that sweet fruit and fish didn't go together. "It would be scoffed at," he said. "But some bananas here have the acidity of an apple. We are using one called platano manzano, which is incredible."

There will be plenty of seafood. Redzepi said he found "incredible" urchins, clams, crabs, tuna, and shrimp. "The fish they shoot with spears, it is so fresh," he said.

The restaurant is in the jungle, so most of the cooking will be done over fire. No large stoves.

Dinner will be served at Noma Mexico five nights a week, with about 120 guests each service. The project is a collaboration between Redzepi and his former sous chef at Noma, Rosio Sanchez and her Copenhagen taqueria Hija de Sanchez. The restaurant will be located adjacent to La Zebra Hotel, at Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila. Noma is working with American Express and Colibri Boutique Hotels on the residency. 

In the meantime, Noma in Copenhagen will temporarily close at the end of February as it moves from its waterside location to a site nearby where it will open late in 2017 as part of an urban farm.

Redzepi said he plans more residencies in future, as they have become important professionally and personally to him and his chefs. (He is taking about 65 staffers to Mexico.)

"When I was young, my friends would travel, doing drugs and having sex and learning about the world," he said. "But I was stuck in the kitchen."

Richard Vines is chief food critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines and Instagram @richard.vines.

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