noma australia is a tantalising three-part series that follows prodigious Danish chef René Redzepi during his stint at Sydney’s flourishing Barangaroo precinct. If you hadn’t heard, the multiple award-winning restaurateur took a break from revolutionising Nordic cuisine to serve up Indigenous-inspired meals to fanatical Aussie diners.
But how does a restaurant like noma earn the title of “The World’s Best Restaurant” (at least, according to these guys? We’ve broken down the criteria…
Ferran Adria, the ex-military man who ended up at the top of the culinary crockenbush as daring Chef de Cuisine of Spain’s El Bulli, cites an encounter with legendary French chef Jacques Maximin as integral to the restaurants surge.
In 1987, when a colleague asked the Frenchman for his definition of creativity, Maximin answered “creativity means not copying”. Adria took that simple answer to heart, and shifted focus from catering out of classic cookbooks to finding his unique culinary voice.
A wise move, considering El Bulli was named the World’s Best Restaurant for five years (in 2002, then 2006-2009) and earned its third Michelin star while in Adria’s masterful hands.
In order for a chef to grow a signature cuisine, a hell of a lot of research is required. As in most art forms, invention in the culinary world is re-invention, and you can’t re-invent without a thorough understanding of what other gastronomes have brought/are bringing to the table.
Take noma’s Redzepi, for example. His palate was informed by his training in Copenhagen, a stint at Le Jardin des Sens in Montpelier, France and then El Bulli in Spain. Eventually, he rediscovered his roots in Denmark, introducing New Nordic Cuisine - Danish staple proteins, traditional smoking and salting techniques, organic ingredients - as a reaction to Copenhagen's fine dining scene.
Taste trumps gimmickry, but not innovation
Molecular gastronomy, popularised as use of scientific techniques such as flash-freezing with liquid nitrogen, has been hot as hell since Adria and Heston Blumenthal arrived on the scene. Other notable chefs considered in this ilk are egg magician Wiley Dufrense, and noma’s own Redzepi.
Though don’t mention molecular gastronomy to Adria and Blumenthal, or the renowned Thomas Keller from The French Laundry either, as all three have distanced themselves from the label – claiming it was used during some workshop in 1992 that nobody of note attended.
These chefs prefer the term ‘multi-sensory cooking’ or ‘modernist/experimental cuisine’, as any new and innovative techniques are still first and foremost about creating flavour.
Keep the vultures happy
Once buzz surrounds a fine-dining establishment, a Shakespearian cast of characters comes scratching at the front door, as hungry to criticise as they are to eat.
Many of these may or may not have a vote when it comes to the world’s top 50 restaurants, whether journalists, fellow chefs, restaurant consultants or food and wine importers, a top chef is required to satisfy an array of last-minute reservations and comped meals.
Some Michelin-starred chefs don’t feel the need to placate or ignore critics, like UK chef Sat Bains, who took to the Internet with revenge on the mind.
The place, the space, the atmosphere.
As we’re all aware, when it comes to global success in the culinary industry, nothing is more important than the food, but most restaurant reviewers have just as much to say about where they’re eating as what they’re eating.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as most Michelin-starred chefs see the establishment and setting as a reflection of the cuisine, just as a film director sees a location as a reflection of the genre.
The most vocal chef on the importance of the perfect overall dining experience also happens to be the most vocal chef on earth – Mr. Gordon Ramsay. Before you jump to insult the man, not only has he earned eight Michelin stars in his lifetime, but his namesake restaurant remained in the world’s top ten for close to a decade.
noma australia premieres on Thursday 19 May at 7:30pm (AEST) on SBS. After they air, episodes will be available on SBS On Demand.
Missed the last episode? Watch it here: