Noma: Danish Ants in Scandinavian Yogurt — A Modern Day Culinary Fairy Tale!
This ‘Noma’ restaurant is not to be confused with ‘noma’, also called ‘noma pudendi’, the infectious disease affecting the face or the ‘Cafe NOMA’ by Ralph Brennan, New Orleans or ‘NoMa Social’ restaurant, New York City, NY.
In her article (May 21, 2012) Sophie Menin, a reputed professional writer on food and wine, while writing about the several restaurants that gave a great facelift to the Copenhagen’s hospitality trade, stated that the story of Noma is a modern day culinary fairy tale.
Matt Goulding, an expert on diet and nutrition, in his article about the ingredients that Danes use in their foods wrote that “…farmers and fishermen, brewmasters and coffee hounds… Without exception, every person I crossed paths with told me that the success of Noma had an impact on what they did.”
A food blogger refers to Mira Arkin, an expert culinary writer, saying: “Noma’s success, meanwhile, has inspired a new school of Scandinavian cooking. …it’s (Noma has) turned Copenhagen into a dining mecca.”
Another blogger, Andrew “MrLithic” C., from Crosslee, Renfrewshire, UK, wrote in his review on Noma: “…Small but large. Quiet but loud… In three hours we were provided 27 courses of taste and mind expanding food. I think it is similar to someone who has been colour blind and can suddenly see red and green. The world is different….”
Certainly they are not exaggerating. This Michelin Two-Star Scandinavian restaurant serving Nordic cuisines has been on the list of the top restaurants of the world for four times.
Opened in 2004 (rather late 2003) in an 18th century warehouse on the waterfront of Christianshavn neighborhood of Copenhagen, Denmark, Noma has been serving Nordic gourmet cuisines to the Danish population as well as the thousands of tourists that are thronging to Copenhagen these days.
Noma is the combination of two Danish words ‘No’ from ‘nordisk’, meaning ‘nordic’ and ‘ma’ from ‘mad’, meaning ‘food’. The significance of brand naming is quite critical when launching a restaurant. Two talented chefs, Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer, thought of bringing the Nordic food culture back to its former glory by relying on fresh, locally found products — moss, snails, sole berries, unripe plums, and other foraged products combined with a wide variety of stuff fermented in-house.
At Noma, it isn’t the question of “hen or eggs” but it’s the dish ‘hen and eggs’, the ‘eggs’ being quail eggs that are pickled and smoked. Guests are treated with such Nordic delicacies as langoustine, wild salmon, seaweed, musk ox, etc., and the succulent dishes make the diners sample the recipes those Vikings and Normans enjoyed centuries ago.
The Champion of the Danish Champion Restaurants:
There have been several awards bestowed on this ‘mad house’:
2005 – First Michelin Star from Michelin Guide, conducted by Michelin Tire Company
2007 — Best Restaurant in the World from 2007 Restaurant Magazine Top 50
2007—Second Michelin Star
2008 — At the Lo Mejor de la Gastronomia Conference in San Sebastian, Spain, Chef Rene Redzepi was named International Chef of the Year
2008 — TripAdvisor website rated Noma the Best Restaurant in the world.
2009 — Noma was the Chef’s Choice by 2009 Restaurant magazine Top 50
2010 thru 2014, except in 2013 when it stood 2nd, — the Best Restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine Top 50.
How did the duo, Redzepi and Meyer, achieve this rare recognition?
By magic? No!
It’s all about building the brand image and making the image spread in four directions, while keeping the standards from falling and protecting it dearly from fakers! The slogan/motto/tag line, or whatever you call it, in Noma’s case is: ‘Making people realise the taste and value of Nordic foods’. To do that everyone has an important role: those in charge of procuring meats, vegetables, fruit, milk, cheese and other ingredients from the crowded farms and markets; chefs in the hot kitchens; waiting staff in the cool dining halls; publicists in the bright & colorful studios and even the valets at the front entrance all must sweat and stink …without being seen sweating and stinking!
You may produce a rabbit out of an ‘empty’ hat by magic, but you cannot make a rabbit dish taste the best with magic.
It isn’t mere luck, nor is it sheer Nordic jingoism that has given Noma this international repute. It’s hard work and talent. (There are no fewer than 15 top class restaurants that boast Michelin stars in Copenhagen, but only Noma has won two and been on the list for the third time unsuccessfully, though.)
Scandinavian eateries in general are opting for traditional food over ‘junk’ food. Rather than importing ingredients for their recipes from all over the world, packed and shipped over long distance and time, Noma and some other restaurants depend mostly on the locally found ingredients which actually give their dishes the real Nordic taste.
The chefs are seen carrying the dishes to the tables, always giving an ear to the titbits the eaters pass to them and always taking note of the rights and wrongs, with a smile on their faces.
Tim Carman, Washington Post’s food section writer, in one of his articles about how he was impressed with the 29-year-old Giusti’s, the Chef de cuisine at Noma, alertness while on duty wrote that the Chef de cuisine was so observant that he noticed the insufficient lumpfish sperm (milt) required for a dish that was ready to be taken to the table, (which insufficiency might not have been noticed by the diner), traced out the cook who made this negligent move, chided him for his negligence, and sent the dish to the table only after a sumptuous dose of milt was spread on the dish, declaring that Noma wouldn’t compromise on service, plating, decor, ingredients and certainly not on the amount of milt!
That’s what is called upholding the Brand Image. Noma gives us a classic example of how Brand Identity saves a business from going to the gutters. Though there was this ‘norovirus’ (vomiting bug) incident in 2013 when several of its diners fell ill and the restaurant had to be closed for two days, even an iota of popularity has diminished and the number of calls of enquiry stayed the same. On the contrary, Noma got the Best Restaurant Award again in 2014! People remembered how they enjoyed the food and how proud they were uploading their experience and photos on their social media channels; as a result of the customer loyalty, they forgive any mishap in their loved establishment with a kind heart. This is what experts call Brand Image!
Claus Meyer, the international reputed chef and co-founder of Noma, turned his unused stables into cellars where traditional containers of juniper, cherry, mulberry, etc., filled with fermenting apple and plum juice are stored for years on end to make the best home-made Danish vinegar so that the dishes at Noma taste not only more exotic but also more Nordic! That much effort is put behind perfecting their recipes.
Matt Goulding wrote about Redzepi saying, after winning the Best Award for the fourth time, that they (the entire team at Noma) were nowhere near the finish line and that there were still so many discoveries out there to be written, and about the discouraging comments and critiques they received in the beginning, Redzepi responded “… they nicknamed Noma ‘the Bloody Whale’ but now you see where we are.”
According to Matt, Redzepi showed not only good palate but also great team spirit when he attributed the credit of Copenhagen becoming the gastronomic tourist spot to all the restaurants which worked towards the similar goal of giving the best Nordic cuisine to the world.
Noma’s concept is not to bring the junk food culture from abroad into Scandinavia but to give out the New Nordic food culture with recipes that are based mostly on the locally available ingredients to the rest of the world.
The Noma location has become so popular that it is now a landmark and prime tourists’ destination in Copenhagen. Crowds of tourists flock to Noma just to have a peek at the building and the dining hall… through the glass windows, usually clicking away their mobiles phones in order to take home pictures of some dishes being eaten away by the lucky guests inside. Eventually this ‘sight-seeing’ frenzy has become so regular that the diners at their tables are made to feel uncomfortable by the peeking crowds, and to overcome this ‘inconvenience’ without having to offend its fans, Noma has built a Nordic theme garden as a fence so that the gawkers can’t come any closer to the windows, yet can have a look at the place!
The West meets the East:
Like The Fat Duck restaurant in the UK which has plans to fly to Australia for six months to give the Aussies the taste of English food, Noma has also planned to move their Nordic cuisines to Japan for a short period, from January 9 to 31, 2015, with a meal coasting about $1,500, but the rush for bookings has been so overwhelming that they have to extend the closing date to 14 February, 2015.
Such is the power of Branding, besides budget and publicity!