The world’s best restaurants have been downgraded from fine dining at least $4,000 a meal to mass cuisine after announcing their closures

When a restaurant receives three stars in the Michelin Guide, it means that it has exceptional cuisine and deserves a special trip. For the past few years, Copenhagen’s three-Michelin-starred Noma has been a reason for diners from all over the world to make the trip to the Danish mecca. But with the announcement in January that Noma will close by the end of 2024, the focus has shifted to Noma Projects, Noma’s culinary experiment. The question now is: how can Noma answer the questions it poses when Fine Dining is no longer viable?

Noma As a leader in the global food scene, Noma is recognized as one of the most influential restaurants in the world. It has been recognized as one of the world’s most influential restaurants and has been awarded the World’s Best Restaurant by Restaurant Magazine for many consecutive years, making it a benchmark and a model for contemporary dining. Even with a minimum cost of DKK 3,950 per person, Noma has been a hard-to-find restaurant for a long time. Founder and head chef René Redzepi, who studied under legendary Barcelona chef Ferran Adelia, whose molecular cuisine restaurant El Bulli was also known for its hard-to-get reservations, took its name from the Danish word Nordisk mad, which means Nordic food, and opened the restaurant in 2003 on the site of an old Copenhagen warehouse. In 2003, Noma opened in a former Copenhagen warehouse and quickly gained a reputation for focusing on local, seasonal ingredients.
The day we opened was in the middle of winter, and it was cold, windy and rainy,” recalls Redzepi. We quickly realized that we had to cook with beets, carrots and onions. In that magical moment, during the first spring of opening, when we searched for ingredients in nature, I discovered the vision for the restaurant: to include more than beets, carrots and onions. Local, seasonal ingredients such as reindeer, duck brains, wild berries, mushrooms and moss were written into Noma’s menu, and the chefs’ battleground, in addition to a few stoves in the kitchen, had to plunge into the mountains and seas, asking for delicacies from the forests and oceans, in order to concoct a table of New Nordic cuisine that is celebrated for what it is. Nordic winters are long and cold, and Noma’s menu is only available in spring, summer and fall. From the very beginning of the restaurant’s existence, Razpi has been thinking about how to bring the gifts of nature from spring and summer to the harsh winter months. The question is answered in the current Noma 3.0 transformation, which is the fermented seasonings being made by Noma Projects.

Noma set up a food lab to work on seasonings with its own flavors. Annika de Las Heras, the former general manager of the restaurant, now serves as COO of the new Noma. In the past, she says, Noma’s food was only available to the few thousand people who made a reservation, but now the new Noma will break that mold: wouldn’t it be incredible if we could find a way to share what we’ve been developing and creating for the past 20 years with a wider public?
Noma Projects’ first product was the Smoked Mushroom Sauce, launched in March 2022, which was hand-fermented with salt and rice crackers to add a distinctive smoky flavor to any dish. In May, Noma further launched Dashi RDX, a modified version of the flavorful Japanese Dashi, which can be used on grilled vegetables, steamed fish or a bowl of steamed rice, and which, according to Noma itself, is the culmination of the team’s ongoing exploration of Japanese cuisine and fresh flavors over the years.Noma Projects’ newest product is a Vegan XO Sauce, made with smoked sweet pumpkin, sundried tomatoes, Noma suggests spreading it on buttered toast, serving it with cooked fish, or mixing it with a vinaigrette to add a different layer to a salad. noma Projects plans to launch around 10 products a year, and experiment with 12 new ones, which will be available exclusively through their members’ club, Taste Buds. The products will be available exclusively through their members’ club, Taste Buds. Food lovers around the world will be able to purchase sauces and dressings and view recipes on the website to try out their own Noma flavors at home.
From the announcement of the restaurant’s closure, Razpi has made it clear that Noma is going in a new direction, with Noma Projects’ first consu   mer products Wild Rose Vinegar, Cep Oil, Whisky Vinegar, Forager’s Vinaigrette, and Noma’s Vinaigrette. ‘s Vinaigrette), all of which are now sold out, is the first breakthrough in Noma’s transformative journey. But it’s just the beginning, and Razpi says they’ll be seizing market opportunities on a much larger scale in the future; the Noma brand is now much more than a restaurant name.
As Thomas Frebel, Creative Director of Noma Projects, says, the knowledge, the craftsmanship that Noma has built up in the past is part of it, both in terms of the final product and the overall production process. As such, Noma Projects is an extension of this philosophy: a holistic conceptual approach that encompasses food, flavor, and education, of which seasoning is just one presentation. Other ancient methods of preserving food, such as pickling and smoking, will find other ways to continue to be promoted – after all, this is what has made the New Nordic Cuisine famous throughout the world. The flash mob restaurant is one of Razpi’s future directions.
For the past 11 years, Noma has been promoting their New Nordic Cuisine dining experience through flash mobs in different parts of the world. Shortly after announcing Noma Projects, in March, Lazepi and his team once again set off for a new flash mob in Kyoto. This time, Noma Kyoto is a 10-week flash mob that will be open from March 15 to May 20, every Wednesday through Saturday. The restaurant opens on the third floor of the Ace Hotel, designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma. Rezepi says he fell in love with the hotel at first sight after stumbling across it on Instagram: the place [the hotel restaurant] was empty, it had never been used because of the Shinkansen pandemic. After seeing its potential, we immediately agreed to have the restaurant here – I hadn’t even seen it in person yet.
Like Northern Europe, Japan has a fine tradition of fermented foods. Rezepi says the restaurant has partnered with Japan’s top miso paste maker, and instead of bringing their own fermentation agents from Copenhagen, they use sake instead, except for the mushroom paste. And in keeping with Noma’s philosophy, the flash mob also used only ingredients from around Kyoto whenever possible. In order to find the most local spices and ingredients, Razpi and his team have been searching for local farmers, fishmongers and suppliers since two years ago, in order to reflect the flavors of Kyoto in their dishes. 
The décor at Noma Kyoto is equally painstaking. The dining table is a custom-made Stellar Works AYA collection, and the onyx oak seats are upholstered in Kvadrat fabrics. The heated curtains that hang over the dining room entrance were created by 101-year-old Japanese dye artist Sayaka Yuzuki. The green trim that floats like a feather on the ceiling is made from 100 percent seaweed, which decomposes completely when buried in the earth, very much in keeping with the Scandinavian concept of environmental protection. Razpi also said that this was his favorite part of the show, and that in the future Noma 3.0 products might be able to use this cellulose as a packaging material.

This Kyoto flash mob was Noma’s second attempt in Japan. The last one was in Tokyo in 2015, and although it also generated a huge buzz, Razepi believes they only scratched the surface of what Japan has to offer. This time in Kyoto is more of a return to their roots, as Noma Kyoto was originally scheduled to open in the fall of 2022, but due to the Niigata Pneumonia epidemic, the opening was repeatedly delayed, and Razpi and the team were forced to postpone the opening until the cherry blossom season.

This journey is our chance to emerge from the gloom of the epidemic, and we need an adventure that will prepare us for our greatest transformational journey to date – a new chapter for Noma that will unfold in 2024.
It’s not the first time Noma has closed its doors; in 2016, Redzepi said he was creatively drained and needed to take a year off to explore culinary inspirations. After a round of flash mob restaurants in Mexico and Japan, Noma 2.0 reopened in 2017 with a new menu and urban farm concept, winning second place in the world’s 50 Best Restaurants that year upon opening. Even so, Redzepi himself has always been highly skeptical about running Noma, and he even thought it would only be open for 10 years at most. So for Razpi, this permanent closure is probably the most logical conclusion and development.
Razpi says the plans for Noma 3.0 only began to take shape during the new Crown Pneumonia pandemic. He believes it will become increasingly difficult for Noma to exist in its current form without being bought out by a large conglomerate. Transforming the food lab and continuing to explore businesses beyond the typical restaurant is the way to go for Noma. Our goal is to create a lasting organization that is committed to pioneering work in the food space while redefining the foundation of the restaurant team: a place to learn, take risks, and grow! (So reads the Noma 3.0 Manifesto.)
Industry analysts believe that Razepi’s move rewrites the rules of culinary innovation. Niche, luxury fine dining will be transformed into mass consumer goods, which will not only revolutionize our taste bud experience, but also affect our perception and pursuit of quality food.
Just as mechanized production brought about the industrial revolution in history, Noma Projects’ e-commerce blueprint may bring about a similar shake-up in the restaurant industry. Rezepi has clearly stated his dream of creating a food culture concept, which he defines as a food affirmative action movement – so that the vast majority of the world’s population can eat better, more nutritious, and more sustainable food.
Of course, downgrading from high-end restaurants to mass-market consumer goods, Noma’s lab has faced many tests: how to achieve cost-effectiveness while maintaining the quality and taste of ingredients? How can the supply chain and production match market demand? All these need to be tested in the commercialized market. Before Noma Projects, well-known restaurants such as Momofuku, Milk Bar and Eleven Madison Park had developed their own FMCG products, but they weren’t as radical as Noma, which closed its own stores.
The last 30 years have been a Gilded Age, with an exponential increase in ambitious restaurants. In the wake of the epidemic, many recognized that the industry needed a different model than the fine dining of the past. Now, Noma 3.0 hopes to open a new chapter in that story: the era of gastronomic affirmation as high-end restaurant-level flavors are replicated and promoted as the new normal. The closing of this three-Michelin-star Copenhagen restaurant is the Lexington shot from this movement.

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