A Comment on the Noma Documentary

For you guys who were not able to see Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s noma documentary tonight, I thought I’d like to make a comment.

The one hour long documentary was portraying chef and owner Rene Redzepi. Half of the time we followed Rene in the kitchen instructing cooks how to prepare dishes, what to do and, very clearly, what not to do. This was spiced up with interviews with kitchen staff, Rene himself and his girlfriend Nadine Levy who in fact met Rene at noma. Very honest interviews, actually.

Yes, we did face Rene’s temper and a glimpse of what it means to work at the world’s 10th best restaurant. I can assure you that the glass walls surrounding the kitchen facing the restaurant are indeed sound insulated.

But what I really liked about this documentary was that, despite the roughness, it showed passion, perfectionism, and enthusiasm. Watching it was the next best thing to be dining there in person.

Rene said that it’s possible to work like that for 10 years max. Five years has past already, so only five more years to enjoy noma?

By the way, I didn’t spot anybody else I know by name but Heston Blumenthal, Connie Nielsen and Lars Ulrich – except for the staff, of course. 🙂

19 Responses to “A Comment on the Noma Documentary”

  • Actually, this will be my first Noma visit. I can’t believe that I am already getting excited by it and it is still 3 months away!

    The reservation was a piece of good fortune. My kids woke me up extremely early on Sunday morning so I ended up logged on and browsing very early on the morning that the restaurant released the next available day in March for reservations. Realising that by being up so early nobody else had yet booked for that evening (a Saturday), I grabbed a spot.

    By the way, I just got back tonight from Les Trois Cochons – part of the Cofoco empire. Definately worth adding to your best of the cheap options in Copenhagen list.


  • Neil, Thank you so much for your thorough description of your experience in Amsterdam! I cannot help thinking “very simple but of the absolute highest quality” – that’s me! It really sounds like a fabulous (food & wine) experience.

    I know what it’s like with food at speedy service (empty restaurant for example). When it happens I slow down the speed of eating to extend the break between the course. Doesn’t always work though. 😉

    Anyway, if I ever get to Amsterdam, Yamazato is on my list!


    PS. Grrreat to see you’ll be back at noma in March! (Cannot remember, but you have been there before, right?)

  • Hej Trine

    Sorry it has taken me while to get around to answering your question about Yamazato.

    In brief, it was extremely good although Japanese food is not something about which I can claim any experience or expertise. We took the celebration menu of 14 courses (in about 7 servings) and it was all immaculately prepared and of the highest quality. For example, the sashimi was exquisite and the wagyu beef which we steamed ourselves at the table was absolutely superb. Both of the these dishes summed up the experience in that they were very simple but of the absolute highest quality ingredients and presented perfectly.

    However, two complaints both about the service. It was both too good and disappointing at the same time – let me explain.

    Firstly, the Japanese waitresses serving the food were first class. But they and the kitchen were just too efficient! The meal had a pace to it that was too quick for me. It wasn’t that we were being hurried out of the door but it did seem that one dish would be taken away and the next would arrive! I like to linger a little more.

    Secondly, it is a big restaurant and it was full. So it was a shame that the sommelier was far too stretched to deal with the room in an efficient way. And it did seem that she was the only staff qualified to advise and serve the wine. We took the pairing wine menu but often found ourselves getting out of sync as the wine lagged behind the ultra efficient food service! The worst experience was at the start of the meal when the first course arrived before we had even had a chance to talk to the sommelier. The old trick of serving some amuse here would have really helped.

    Having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed the wines. We started with a couple of different sakis which was a first for me. They were of extremely high quality, very well balanced and structured but as different as say, chardonnay from sauvignon blanc. A very interesting experience. The rest of the wines were more traditional and perfectly matched the food.

    I would certainly do it again but I’d make sure that it was on a quieter night of the week!

    Closer to home, I just picked up a Saturday evening reservation in March for Noma which is getting me excited! And on a much simpler level our annual visit to Salt is coming up – a restaurant that has never let me down in terms of very well executed food, even if the service can be a little unpredictable. I’m looking forward to that as well.


  • the mode,the tone is the same EVERY day. a lot of things were omitted from the docu shown on the tube.
    it doesn’t work in the end to use all the common excuses for personal persecution. pressure,michelinstars, etc. one must remember that the people hired/accepted have been through the ususal procedures therefore when employed.
    abuse is always symptomatic of some other underlying cause. the whole myth of the artistic flaring temperament connected to true genius….please. education education education. recognition of our other; leadership whether big or small. a lot of chefs and cooks are analfabets, literally. or adhd . tradition has always been: if nothing else the bad boys could always: join the army-go to sea- or become a cook!

  • am, I don’t like that type of angry leadership either – one of my music mentors was that way, and it always made me feel so small.* However, it would be wrong to assume that’s what it’s like all the time. 16 hours per day in the kitchen, and we were shown only a few minutes of carefully selected footage.

    Different people handle pressure in different ways. Sure, the world might be a better place if everyone could handle the pressure more gracefully, but that just isn’t realistic. And at least everything Rene says is valid – he isn’t just calling people profane names. I think it would be better if Rene could be more calm, but I accept that, during service, there isn’t any time to mess around, and that includes the staff not wasting any time when owning up to their mistakes.

    I couldn’t understand much of the documentary, so I don’t know one way or another if it’s fair to say Rene is “pathetic” and “burning up. [sic]” I think he’s under a tremendous amount of pressure, and he recognizes that he needs to take a break sooner or later.

    *It wasn’t nearly as bad as another mentor, who remained perfectly calm when criticizing me. After a while, yelling and swearing becomes comical in a way; calm, methodical, precise criticism cuts the deepest.

  • I included my personal opinion about the Disappointing DR post. But yes, I guess everyone in the restaurant business know what the conditions are.

    What is really sad is people who have not met Rene now thinks that he is like that all the time in the kitchen. I wonder whether DR tried to blanace that by adding what Zarah references as the emotionel “porn”.

    JC, I’m glad you managed to see it and that you understood a great deal of it. 🙂

    Neil, tell me how was Amsterdam and was Yamazato great?

  • Ah, Sølve, thanks for those great suggestions.
    Now I just need a trip to Oslo. Good thing that you have cheap flights too with Norwegian. 🙂
    I look forward to seeing your review from those restaurants! 😉

  • it is time for traditional ways of handling situations in the workplace and coworkers to evolve in another more constructive direction. references to the years and years of a degrading and psychopathic behaviour in the kitchens has to come to an end. it is very sad to watch a pathetic a young man of 30 burning up and calling it the yearning for perfection and passion for his craft and trade…..
    as if management by fear is the answer to get things done…..
    food is seduction, also an illusion when brought to this level gastronomically. the hype is on.( also; I so wish that people insisting on blogging in a language not their own would read and write some more = a greater flow in the expressive mode)

  • I understood all of his F-bombs, at least. 😉 I chalk it up to the pressure of service combined with what the one Polish? guy said, he’s hard but he’s also right. In such a time-sensitive situation, you don’t have time to mess around, or sometimes even compose your thoughts as well as you would like. He’s certainly very loving with his girlfriend and baby, and he seems perfectly nice to his staff outside of service, so he can’t be all that bad.

  • JC – a majority of Noma’s kitchen staff don’t speak Danish so you’ll understand a lot of the documentary!

    Neil (freshly back from Yamazato)

  • Yeah it’s hard to say from only getting glimpses of Rene’s personality. Maybe he’s like Buddy Rich – he comes across really badly on the surface, but it’s just the drive for perfection, but below the surface he’s really a very nice guy. That’s sort of my impression of Rene – direct, doesn’t like BS, a little intense/intimidating, but a good person.

    I guess I should take a look at the documentary, even though I don’t understand Danish beyond a few words and phrases. 😉

  • Zarah – you’re right. It was hard to tell if, having got all the footage on film, when it came to editing and deciding what the ‘angle’ would be of the programme, the makers deliberately decided to focus on Rene’s temper. I think it is almost inevitable to end up making this the story of the programme otherwise it would have been either a rather bland programme or would have had to have been a cookery show.

    Certainly everyone I know who has seen it feels that Rene did not come out of it very well. For example, all the portayals of Gordan Ramsay always leave the impression that there is a substantial human side to his personality that balances the (appalling) way he treats his staff.

    That seemed to be missing from this programme but as we know little about Rene, I think we have all given him the benefit of the doubt for now.


  • I don’t know how to feel about the documentary. I thought it was trying to be more sensational – in a bad way – than what I’d hoped for. I loved the interviews, and the personal stories, and the passion portrayed, but felt like it went a little emotional “porn” on me at times. In the times of Extreme Makeover etc., if you want to make tv people will actually watch, I guess this is what you have to do. I just though DR could do better, or at least be more objective in their presentation.
    But what really has me aggrevated is the fact that now, after the documentary – and allow me to get on my high horse here – the unions are all stepping on each others toes now, sad faces and all, offering leadership courses and further education etc., when it’s been like this in kitchens everywhere for ages. Fine, great, but why didn’t you offer that A LONG TIME AGO?? Why don’t you teach new chefs how to teach others, already when they’re in school? Does it really take a tv-show and the front page of a couple tabloids for this to change? That’s sad.
    (and FIVE YEARS IS ALL WE HAVE LEFT?!? I need to make money, now! ;))

  • Bagatelle is certainly been the most successful restaurant in Norway/Oslo the last decade. The only one to achieve two Michelin Stars, although they lost one this year. The style here is modern french, and someone like yourself who has been to places like Fat duck, Gagnaire, Noma, Oud slouis are likely not to experience anything mind blowing at Bagatelle.

    Another place to try if visit Oslo is Restaurant Oscars Gate.
    Björn Svensson has staged at El Bulli, and offers a more modern style, with influence not only from France.
    Small restaurant, only 20 covers. But 6-8 chefs! A lot of detail in his food. Was rewarded with one star this year.

    Then you have Palace Grill. No stars because they are so Indie. Small place, only 20 covers. One waitress/waiter, very different and laid back service. No reservation, you have to show up early to get in. Very popular.

    For the “New Nordic Cuisine” thing, it seems that more is happening in Stavanger. Restaurant Setra seems to almost copy Noma (look, they have the same brown aprons as well! 🙂 http://www.restaurantsetra.no/english.htm

    Hope to come back with blogposts and picture soon!

    Keep up the good work!

  • and… and I still have to try fine dining in Norway/Oslo. Bagatellen, have you been there?

    So, I very much look forward to following your epicurian adventures up there, so I can assure to pick the right place(s) for my taste.

    Thanks for the sweet words. It means a lot to me 🙂

  • And thank you for a VERY good blog, Trine.
    I hope I can report from Norwegian restaurants the way you have covered Denmark.
    You know, we are a bit jealous about what has happened with the Danish restaurant scene. Noma and others have really made Denmark a culinary destination. Can’t say the same about Norway yet, but hopefully norwegian restaurants follow soon.

  • Yep, Jessie, you need to do some serious saving and get right back to CPH!! 🙂

    Woo-haa, Sølve, thanks so much!! Not only for the link to your great blog but also to the documentary! 😉

  • Thanks for the tip!
    I found a link to the documentary on web!



  • If only five more years, then I have to eat there at least twice more. I hope I can manage it. 🙁

    And EWW to Lars Ulrich. I like Connie Nielsen though. 😉

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