Highly ranked on every foodie’s bucket list and named Restaurant Magazine‘s best restaurant in the world four times over, Noma is, quite literally, a big deal. The pride of Copenhagen, this humble restaurant has defined regional Danish cooking thanks to its celebration of nordic produce.
While news has come in that Noma’s owner, chef René Redzepi, is closing Noma at the end of 2016 and moving the influential restaurant to a brand new location, Noma will first make a quick pit-stop on our fair shores for a ten week stint in Barangaroo, Sydney in January 2016. Following their recent pop up in Tokyo at the beginning of 2015, the entire team at Noma are well prepared and ready to relocate everything and everyone to Australia and share their take on fresh local food made in imaginative ways.
We chatted to the sous chef of Noma’s research and development kitchen, Australian Beau Clugston, about the restaurant’s upcoming trip Down Under.
What was the biggest shock for you moving from Australia to Denmark?
No question it would be the winter. It sounds like a generic answer coming from a guy growing up in Sawtell (a coastal town in northern New South Wales), but it really was big change for me. I quickly learned to love the season though; I find a lot of inspiration in the crisp winter air, the white snow and the sunlight it reflects. There is a plain beauty to it, but it also forces limitations upon us in the kitchen, which has taken us to places we would never have imagined.
Why is Sydney the right spot for the next Noma pop up?
The core reason is the landscape and its ingredients. There is such a vast difference between Denmark and Australia, which means we get to explore our philosophy and practices in a completely new environment. Our pop-up in Japan taught us that this change of environment is one of the greatest sources of inspiration.
How do you take something like Noma and transport it to Sydney?
You cannot begin to imagine the logistics and time that goes into a project of this magnitude. We have two full time staff working solely on this project. They take care of everything from flights, accommodation and visas to daycare and schooling arrangements for the families. Not to mention their collaboration with the architects and designers building the place with us.
Having previously done a restaurant-in-residence with Noma in Tokyo, were there any particular lessons you’ll take with you as you prepare for the Sydney version?
We have taken a lot away from our experience in Japan. The challenge of moving the entire restaurant really strengthened our team, which I’m sure will happen again with our stay in Sydney. We also learned that a trip like this needs a lot of planning, which is why we are spending a lot of time doing research trips on the entire continent. This is vital to both developing a new menu and to have a feeling of the place and its people.
Foraging and using native food is a huge part of Noma’s ethos. Where do you plan to forage for food in and around Sydney?
These days there is still a lot of research and brainstorming going on. We are about to embark on our second research trip, which will give us a lot more clarity in regards to products. During that trip, we will meet up with many interesting and knowledgeable people who, luckily, are willing to help us.
Are there any native Australian products you’re really looking forward to working with?
Yes, so many! The inflorescence of an Alexandra palm excites me a lot (please reach out if you can help us source that), but also bush honey and blood limes, just to name a few.
Can you give us some hints about the menu?
At the moment we are finding a lot of inspiration by the sea and shorelines. There is some sort of latent connection between the Australian people and the costal landscape that we find very interesting. But to be honest, everything is still up in the air. We could end up following a completely new direction after our next research trip.
Will you be cooking food you’ve never cooked with before? What is that like as a sous chef and how do you prepare for the unexpected?
Yes – that’s for sure. I am not only tasting produce I’ve never experienced, but also learning about things I never knew existed. I feel so fortunate to get the opportunity to explore our native fauna and wildlife. This is in it self amazing, which is why I’m doing everything I can to deepen my understanding of this natural terroir. There’s a lot of research to be done – both in the kitchen, in the library and in the field where I’ve met some very competent farmers and purveyors. This form of research is how I deal with the unexpected, which in the end is a privilege and a responsibility that come with working as a sous chef in the test kitchen.
Have you sampled any unusual native Australian produce you think you’ll be working with yet?
We have already tasted over 100 different native ingredients – for example, pandanas, wattle pollen, honey ants and a bird that eats mangos. But there is no way to tell if it will end up on the menu this early. It all depends on the availability during the weeks we are open.
Which Australian chefs inspire you?
Ben Shewry has been somewhat of a mentor for me. He actually got me the job at Noma back in 2010.
What are your five favourite places to eat in Denmark?
Lillebror: A small café run by two former Noma chefs, Victor Wågman and Samuel Nutter. Great coffee, amazing pastries and an inspired evening menu.
Relæ: A truly creative place that invests all its resources in developing the most sustainable menus possible.
Schønnemann: One of Copenhagen’s oldest restaurants serving traditional Danish food and schnapps.
Amass: Matt Orlando has been exploring a mixture of so-called Nordic and American cuisine during the past few years, and is always consentient in providing a great time.
Daniel Berlin: It is actually in Sweden, but only an hour drive away from Copenhagen. They’ve delivered cutting edge cooking in a laid back atmosphere every time I’ve visited – a great place!
What are your five favourite places to eat in Australia?
Flying Fish: For hot days when all you want to do is sit outside overlooking the harbour with oysters, mud crabs and champagne.
Fleet: A tiny restaurant in Brunswick Heads, NSW, run by a husband and wife team who have not only great wine but superb cooking and the friendliest ambience
Silvereye: I was lucky enough to try a dinner from Sam Miller last month before the opening. This is going to be a big success if it’s anything like the thoughtful and playful food I had that night.
Franklin: Casual friendly restaurant with an amazing wood fired oven, using locally sourced products of the highest standard.
Spice Temple: Neil Perry’s casual restaurant is great value for money and a place you can visit many times in the same month.
Noma’s residency in Barangaroo, Sydney will begin in January 2016. For more information check out Noma’s website here.
(Lead image: Noma/Facebook)