How much influence can a restaurant have?
It created and defined "New Nordic Cuisine" (New Nordic) on its own, advocated the use of local raw materials, and emphasized seasonality and sustainability;
▲ Celebrity chef René Redzepi collects local herbs outdoors
In 2019, nearly 40% of the tourists in Copenhagen went to its "pilgrimage" to check in "New Nordic Cuisine";
Critics called it the most imitated restaurant: "No restaurant can think of so many ideas and have them copied so quickly by so many restaurants in other urban areas".
This restaurant is Noma, which has been rated as the "Best Restaurant in the World" by the British magazine "Restaurant" five times and has won three Michelin stars.
▲ Noma Restaurant
Just this month, Noma suddenly announced that it would close its "traditional restaurant" after the end of 2024 and transform it into a "food laboratory".
Celebrity chef René Redzepi, who co-founded Noma, explains:
(The modern "Fine Dining" model) is not sustainable. It just doesn't work, financially or emotionally, for me as an employer or as a human being.
Many netizens were surprised to see the news.
If the "best restaurant in the world" with a per capita consumption of 3,000+ RMB per meal is still "hard to find", what other restaurant can survive?
However, we often only see how famous chefs full of "ingenuity" pay attention to details, but we don't see an extremely unstable system behind fine dining-nearly half of the chefs in Noma's kitchen are exploited free internships pregnancy.
The "Hell's Kitchen" behind the food
▲ Stills of the American drama "Bear's Restaurant"
We all know that the epidemic has brought a huge impact on the global catering industry, but what is less known is that the epidemic has also brought another important impact-the interns and chefs who are "forced to rest" have time to think:
You work 16 hours a day, five days a week, and self-reflection is time consuming.
(The epidemic) made us realize that we have all been kidnapped from our lives, and our past life is not life.
A chef from Poland told the Financial Times .
A growing number of disgruntled chefs have also taken to social media and in interviews to recount their ordeals.
A former Noma employee said he had seen trainee chefs plucking ducks in the freezing rain, shaking and plucking, their hands as stiff as claws. But there are actually dedicated indoor prep rooms in the restaurant that allow them to do this work.
▲ Noma's duck dishes
In 2107, Namrata Hegde , who had just graduated from India and went to Noma for an internship at his own expense, did not learn any cooking skills during the three-month internship, and basically did only one thing – making fruit puree beetles.
▲ Puree Beetle
Spread the blackberry puree evenly on the mold, watch how dry it is, and then use tweezers to join the beetle's limbs and wings.
In addition, Hegde's superior chef strictly forbids her to laugh while working, and to work beside him in extreme silence:
I thought the internship was to allow myself to learn while contributing to the success of Noma. I don't think this toxic work environment is necessary.
There are also people who went to Noma for an internship for three months and were responsible for pulling the vanilla leaves from the branches. "They just need people."
Some interns said that some colleagues would say that they were going to the bathroom, and then they never came back and left the restaurant.
Outside of Noma, almost the entire fine dining industry has a lot of problems working in the back kitchen: bullying, sexism, racism, violence…
People don't speak out because this is how the industry has worked for a long time, and the influence of the "circle" keeps employees from speaking out.
The "Noma family" is so influential in this city (Copenhagen) that if you piss off one of them, you're screwed.
In Copenhagen, many Michelin-starred chefs are from Noma. They know each other and agree on the culture of the working environment. If an employee speaks out, it may be difficult for him to get along in Copenhagen.
After the epidemic, the number of returning chefs is decreasing, many restaurants are facing a shortage of manpower, and changes in the industry are imminent.
Change is imperative, but where?
In 2015, René Redzepi wrote an article pointing out the hostile working environment in the industry, saying that when he first entered the industry, chefs would be slapped for small mistakes, and if they moved slowly, they would be directly thrown by their bosses with flying dishes. Verbal humiliation was even more common.
This is how I was taught to cook and it is the only way I know to deliver the message I want to convey.
Redzepi also stated in the article that he wants to change this work culture.
He claims to see a therapist, find a coach, and practice meditation, all to improve the poor working environment in the kitchen.
But this year, Redzepi has somewhat given up.
He admitted that it is really not feasible to provide reasonable wages for nearly 100 employees, maintain high-quality production, and control the price to a level acceptable to the market.
We have to think about the industry from the ground up. It's all so hard, we have to work differently.
Michelin three-star chef David Kinch also decided to give up and closed his fine dining restaurant in California last year:
Fine dining is at a crossroads and is in dire need of dramatic change.
The whole industry is aware of this problem, it's just that people don't know how things will develop.
Some commentators believe that if fine dining wants to survive, it can only increase its prices, making it a service exclusively enjoyed by a very small number of rich people, and stop thinking about "popularization of fine dining".
There is no such thing as "overpriced"…if you put a price on something and someone else is willing to pay it, other people's opinions don't matter at all.
▲ Noma Restaurant
There are also people who question the rationality of the existence of fine dining from the bottom of their hearts.
Hugh Piper, who was a free intern at another well-known high-end restaurant, said that because of the complicated process, it took him half a day to prepare the ultra-small diced apples used in a dish.
When he tasted the final dish, he found that the result of his huge workload was not ideal:
Would food really be less tasty if we cut out a processing step or two? Or are we just showing off that we can do these things?
Chef Victor Garvey, who works at a Michelin-star restaurant, believes that those restaurants that can survive for a long time will not be led by extremely demanding "star chefs". That kind of extreme life is like a marathon. The chef only wants to make everything better by 0.1% every day and tortures himself and the team.
▲ One of the dishes on the Noma Ocean menu
While we can't predict where fine dining will go, what is certain is that there is no turning back for the industry.
The new generation of food and beverage practitioners who have grown up are unwilling to bear it any longer, and the disclosure of the industry's "shady scenes" by popular culture has also made more people understand its injustice.
In April 2021, Willows Inn, the restaurant of "noma" chef Blaine Wetzel, was officially closed in November after it was reported that there were systematic sexual exploitation and sexual harassment issues. A growing number of well-known restaurants are being investigated for working conditions.
▲ Like the restaurant in the "Menu", Willows Inn is located on a small island, claiming to only use its own "island crops" as raw materials, and was later reported by employees as fraudulent
After more than a decade of food reality shows like Top Chef and MasterChef, we've seen more of the likes of The Bear and The Menu in recent years. The Menu), "Boiling Point" and "Boiling Point" are film and television works that criticize the current situation of the industry.
▲Still photo of the movie "Menu"
In the movie "The Menu", the chef team standing behind the famous chef finally chose to die in the sea of fire with the famous chef and diners, creating an ultimate menu concept.
Fortunately, in life, young chefs did not choose this path.
As a Martin Luther King Jr. quote quoted in The Menu puts it:
Freedom is never a voluntary gift from the oppressor, it needs to be won by the oppressed.
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