Noma Reopened With Burgers Served at Picnic Tables. It's Just What the People Want.

As fine dining around the world goes through a pandemic-induced existential crisis, all eyes are on one of the world's best restaurants for clues on how to move forward.

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Ditte Isager

René Redzepi remembers the day that spontaneity died at Noma. It was late 2009, and his wildly inventive Copenhagen restaurant was suddenly on the radar of gastronomes around the world. Reservations were going bonkers. One guest ordered the tasting menu plusim电竞官网- every single dish on the à la carte menu on the side. “I thought, ‘Oh shit, this is new times, something is really happening here,’” Redzepi recalled this week. That kind of order created a hassle as the kitchen had to shrink every à la carte dish to a tasting menu portion. So once Noma topped the World’s Best 50 list for the first time the next year—in April of 2010—the à la carte menu was dropped, and Noma became a restaurant with one carefully calibrated and controlled menu.

“When we opened up we were never a one menu restaurant,” Redzepi said. “You could come for lunch and eat a cooked cod and have a glass of beer and be out in 45 minutes.”

But a decade and a month since Noma was first crowned the world’s best restaurant, spontaneity has returned to the kitchen in the most unexpected way—and Redzepi is pumped. Like his peers running fine dining places that have closed around the world, he’s been through the same existential crisis, worrying about how Noma will look when it comes out the other side. He knows many eyes are on him to show the same sort of innovative thinking and leadership as he did to make Noma one of the world’s most influential restaurants. Across the U.S. many fine dining places like Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Alinea have switched to a to-go model. Some have reinvented themselves as groceries. Many have, unfortunately, closed. His response to being locked down at home for two months, unable to run a restaurant or see friends, has been to throw open Noma’s guard-patrolled gates. He has turned Noma into a come-as-you-are wine bar and burger joint with picnic benches set up in its spring garden. The next era of Noma? Well, it’s expressed most emphatically in the form of “the best goddamned cheeseburger” his chefs could conjure up, accompanied with juicy, accessible natural wines. “Burger wines,” as sommelier Mads Kleppe said with a laugh.

noma burger
Ditte Isager
noma food
Ditte Isager

If you needed any more evidence that Covid-19 has changed the way the world works, you’d find it here beside a lake on a sunny spring day, talking cheeseburgers with one of the world’s most restlessly creative chefs. The last time Redzepi and his team served meat at Noma, it was lightly stewed deer brain and a tartare of fresh duck heart. Today it is a third of a pound of organic, grass-fed, dry-aged Danish beef ground three times to improve the flavor, and turbocharged with beef fat and garum, traditionally a type of fermented fish sauce but in this case made with fermented beef, fungus, and koji. It’s then dressed with a mayonnaise laced with pickled cucumbers and Dijon mustard, and topped with sliced raw red onion and a piece of organic Danish cheddar. It is juicy and beefy—but not tricked up.

This is how Redzepi decided to respond to the global calamity: He wanted to make everyone feel welcome. Opening a wine bar alone would not have done that, because it would have been perceived as catering to its normal crowd. So he settled on a burger, “because it’s the thing that everyone loves.” A nomaburger, a dish for all seasons, an inclusive gesture of solidarity towards fellow Copenhageners by an exclusive restaurant that was alien to most of them.

im电竞官网-“To tell you the truth, I'm not a gigantic burger lover—I never have been—but it's not about what I want, it's about what people want to eat,” said Redzepi. “It just felt wrong to open Noma as a five-hour thing. The most important thing right now is that we remember to take care of people, open the doors, smile at each other, get the positivity going, get the anxiety shaken off, you know, get a new era going.”

noma
On the left, a server and Redzepi. On the right, Zilber. 
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noma
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Hours before the first burgers were served to a small group of family and friends at a trial run on Wednesday, Redzepi had his instincts confirmed when a kindergarten class walked by with their teachers. “It was so funny, one of the kids said, ‘Hey, my dad says you can get burgers in there.’ I don't think there's a Dane who doesn't know there will be burgers at Noma from Thursday.” As it happened, hundreds of them turned out on the day, May 21, a public holiday in Denmark, forming lines that snaked in two directions a few hundred yards along the road. By 6 p.m. they had sold 1,200 burgers priced at Danish kroners 125 (around $18) apiece to take away, or 150 kroners (about $22) to eat in—a bit more expensive than others around town but about 1/18th the price of the seafood menu Noma last served on March 14.

"I'm not a gigantic burger lover—I never have been—but it's not about what I want, it's about what people want to eat."

This week Redzepi, like many others in the Danish capital, has been reveling in the first real sense of freedom since being sequestered in mid-March. It’s been tough but, as Redzepi said, Denmark has had a slightly easier pandemic, getting off much more lightly than the U.S., U.K., Italy, and other parts of the world. One of the first into lockdown, it was one of the first out after smashing the curve of contagion while it shielded workers and showered money on hibernating businesses. On Monday restaurants, cafes, and bars began tentatively reopening with strict hygiene and social distancing rules, but no face masks. By Thursday the tourist-free but busy city felt downright festive. The sun’s UV rays may not kill the virus but they were like a blast of radiation on the coronavirus blues.

“We've been cooped up inside, cut off from each other for so long, to have this be your first breath of fresh air, so to speak, it's not bad,” said Noma’s fermentation director David Zilber, who was sitting in the Noma garden. Long before he became a fermentation freak with his own cult following, he was a butcher in Toronto breaking down whole animals and making burgers. “Knowing what cut to use. Brisket, chuck, or bavette, something that has inherent marbling but also texture was just part of the job,” he said of that early role. He teamed up with British sous chef Stuart Stalker and within two days they had created a perfect burger, with the best grind and fat ratio, the right percentage of beef garum (or what Zilber calls “amazing-rich-Bovril-super-power-good-real-food-flavour-bomb”), a tasty mayo, and a potato bun supplied by Gasoline Grill, the Danish capital’s reigning burger kings.

noma
Ditte Isager
noma
Ditte Isager

But being Noma, they spent the next five weeks tinkering and testing all sorts of concoctions—such as mixing wild foraged blossoms and buds into the sauces—only to circle right back to where they started. Their best burger was their simplest and most un-Noma-like. With one concession: The burger is served with a nasturtium flower on the plate. “Honest to god it's the best burger I have ever had,” declared Zilber.

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For the wine bar, Kleppe brought out bottles he’d been hoarding for years. “Mostly it's about finding delicious, juicy wines that are approachable and recognizable but also fun and interesting that you want to sit and drink in the sun.” One is a fresh and lively 10-year-old L’Anglore rosé from natural wine legend Eric Pfifferling, in the south of France, while Kleppe’s perfect burger pairing is a peach-colored Himmel auf Erden 2016 rosé from another star, Christian Tschida in Austria.

When Redzepi moved Noma from its original location to its tailor-made home in Christiania in 2018, he called the second iteration Noma 2.0 and fantasized about how it might develop over the next decade. Now, a little more than two years later, he’s talking about Noma 3.0, one produced in response to extreme external G-forces. There's a wine bar in the garden and its dining room is shuttered, with tables set forlornly for a service on some unknown future date. Redzepi said he has no real sense of what shape Noma 3.0 will take: “Our next era here, and it might be just for a year or it might be for several years, is going to be more spontaneous.” Lots of chefs from all around the world have asked Redzepi for advice. Despite all the unknowns, what he can say is, “The word we keep telling ourselves when we have our creative meetings is: spontaneity.”

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