As a place where you will have the chance to enjoy its dishes only in a few seasons following the day you book your table, Noma is a 13-year-old restaurant which has gotten its name from the first syllables of “Nordisk Mad” which means “Nordic food.” Wholeheartedly attached to the local produce sourced from his native land, the chef of the restaurant is René Redzepi who turned a derelict warehouse in Copenhagen which was built in the 18th century almost into a gastronomy school and has since managed to make the Scandinavian cuisine a trendy topic amongst the gastronomy enthusiasts.
Soon after its opening, Noma entered the list of “The World’s 50 Best” and has since climbed the ladder of success quite fast. In my last dinner at the restaurant where I went to visit René Redzepi and the talented Turkish chef Melih Demirel who is also in Redzepi’s team, I observed that the chef was even more vigorous and practicing his profession in a more disciplined way than before. Of course, the biggest reason behind this was the fact that the restaurant had moved away from the top spot on the list and dropped to the No 5.
I first came to know Chef Melih who is from Karaburun thanks to his work at Tabla where he created new dishes that gave hope to the “Neo-Turkish Cuisine” trend. During his work experience at Noma, he was quick to get offered the “sous chef” title. In my visit to Noma, thanks to Melih welcoming us, I had the opportunity to make a comprehensive detour around the kitchen.
At Noma, a team of 90 people is working for the happiness of 45 guests. When your reservation is due, there is no way for you to add another extra chair to your table even if you have someone you know in the kitchen for a reference. This is because the restaurant team is much disciplined about the rules thinking that such a breach would disturb the other guests.
Hence, “discipline” would be my first word to define Noma’s team. As the team starts the day at 5 AM with the oven starting to warm up, they work on 9 different levels of tasks.
These are foraging task where the team goes on long exploratory trips to the special fields in company of fruit pickers to have an insight about the vegetables and the fruits and source them from these fields; production task where the trainees prepares the herbs by cleaning them and skin the animals; juicing task where a variety of fruit and vegetable juice is prepared on a daily basis in accordance with the menu; BBQ task where the vegetables are smoked and the bread is fried; fermentation lab task where a variety of fermentation process takes place; staff meal task where the chef who’s in charge prepares the staff meal of the day following the local yet creative recipes; test kitchen task where three talented chefs brainstorm and experiment with different recipes every day and archive these results; sections task where the basic preparation for the meals is completed, and lastly service task where the dishes are serviced after a last touch as the hustle-bustle tops.
There is no any specific staff member Noma who is only tasked with servicing the dishes to the guests, which is quite unlike the other restaurants. Your dishes are serviced by the chefs themselves who go through every one of the above-mentioned tasks and are aware of what they serve since they memorize every stage of preparation. So as to keep the staff motivated and interested in their work, meetings are held every day where everyone has to show up to talk about the guests and the menu of the day.
As you would see the excitement they have in their eyes brought by the fact that they work for a restaurant team where the eyes of the world is on them, these chefs and chef-to-be people may make you kowtow out of respect for their excellent discipline and passion for research. Hence after a long exacting work in the backstage, the team shows an excellent effort to make you feel like you’re the most special person on earth to eat something on that night as if they swear to do so.
You won’t find the classic meat dishes in the kitchen of Chef René Redzepi. The menu especially features Scandinavian vegetables, seafood and Scandinavian ants. What makes people wait for months to eat at Noma is its capacity to service anything with a plain yet an unusual style. In that, the dinner you will have at Noma is beyond a basic function like filling your stomach, rather an unusual gastronomic experience that you should have a few times at best in your lifetime.
Having the slightly sour taste of rhubarb which is also known as “ravent” in Turkish, rhubarb and seaweed was a visually appealing starter with its presentation that looked like a rose.
Featuring a sort of flatbread, blackcurrant, special ant sauce and quail egg pickle, vegetable platter is presented over a piece of grass. This was the only thing on the menu that had some elements which did not agree with my palate, hence getting a down-vote from me.
Presented in a dish made of kelp, a sort of seaweed, radish pie looked quite enjoyable.
Grilled baby cucumber was crowned with petty flowers and ants, accompanied by some summer herbs.
For bread and goat’s milk butter, they use a type of sour yeast which has been cultivated for 100 years. The flour is ground via a modernized version of the old stone mills, and the dough made from this flour is left to rise for a while. It is steam-cooked for 20 mins and then cooked in high temperature. To accompany this scrumptious bread which has the capacity to stay fresh for two hours even if it is left uncovered, the butter is selected among a great variety of butter types which from time to time amounts to almost 80 varieties.
The accompaniments to fresh milk curds include green strawberry juice, kelp seaweed boiled in water for three days and a sort of green leaves called “goose tongue.”
For seasonal vegetable and fruit dish, broad beans and cherries are steam cooked. Despite a bit of butter, it was the lightest dish on the menu.
There were two different dishes featuring sweet lobster. Lobsters are, first, caught in the waters with a temperature of 17 degrees Celsius and kept in the same conditions at the restaurant. For the first dish, the carapace parts of the lobsters are boiled and then marinated with some rose oil and butter, and then get served with the accompaniment of shallots which are embellished with petty lavenders. For the second one, the head of these lobsters are cracked open and then get seared with some butter in a frypan. These two dishes were the ones, by far, I liked the most at Noma.
Denmark peas were presented on a bed of wild rose petals and plum biscuit crisps. As they were cooked quite slightly, the remaining lush green color of the peas had a rather appealing look.
King crab was steam-cooked and boosted with some egg yolk sauce.
Grilled herbs featured the typical flavors sourced from the Scandinavian soil. The taste of every one of the herbs was enhanced with smoked butter and scallop sauce.
While the meat of turbot was grilled and presented with sweet shrimps and a variety of herbs, its bones were also grilled and arrived at the table over some rose petals.
Lamb’s milk and ant paste was a different sort of dessert as it left a soury flavor on our palates. Despite that, the dessert has an agreeable taste for those who are not familiar with the taste of ants.
The taste of grilled rose ice-cream was quite in harmony with the addition of elderflower which is generally used in the production of wine and liquor. The whole dessert was covered in barley.
Porcini covered with dark chocolate was embellished with raw licorice root.
The last flavors of this intriguing experience were wild red forest fruits and egg liquor which was presented in a bowl made of ice.
I feel uncomfortable thinking about the outcomes of the culinary mentality that has gripped the Turkish restaurants which are driven by the incentive of “earning more money with less work” when I look at the example of Noma which has proved that it is possible for the cuisine of a country, which was once approached with some prejudice, to rise out of this negative perspective thanks to an effort bolstered up with love, care and discipline. As Noma is quite enviable in this regard, it is such a unique research and development center that I haven’t come across any similar example of which during my 40 years of gastronomy journey.
In order to keep the culinary passion alive for another 10-15 years and to re-explore its dynamics, the restaurant’s team is going to give a break for a while and move to the farmlands of Christiana which is close to Copenhagen. During this hiatus, they will open a pop-up restaurant in Sydney and a “Nordic” themed brasserie in New York. Also they opened a new restaurant beneath Noma named 108 which, as far as I had the opportunity to try, offers the more basic versions of the local recipes.
Noma which gives great importance to training and non-stop improvement will hopefully one day train many more Turkish chefs such as Murat Deniz Temel, Melih Demirel and Doğuş Şahin in its kitchen so that we can leave Turkish cuisine to the hands of these youthful chefs who expand their vision under the guidance of trained professionals…
Bon appétit and enjoy the taste of life…