The secret is out, revealed by the chef himself on his restaurant website this morning: René Redzepi is moving Noma to Sydney for the summer to offer an Australian-inspired menu at a pop-up restaurant at Barangaroo on the city’s sparkling harbour.
We’re relieved to be able to at last share a secret that we’ve been keeping since Terence and I had lunch with René at David Thompson’s Nahm in Bangkok earlier this month, the day after the incredible global Gelinaz! Shuffle.
Below is an edit of very enjoyable conversation over a divine lunch that covered everything from jet-lag and food journalism to the multicultural heritage that Australia has to thank for producing some of the world’s most open-minded and culinary adventurous chefs.
Because it was when we were researching the first incarnation of this story on contemporary Australian cuisine that we first met and interviewed René a few years ago the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
Q. So tell us about this secret Australia project.
A. Well, when we fly out this afternoon we’re starting a twenty-day tour of Australia, which Beau (Noma sous-chef from Coffs Harbour) has planned. We’re not going to go to Western Australia or the Northern Territory this trip. We’ll do that another time. We have a couple more trips planned. It’s a big place, man. It’s like travelling around Europe – with Turkey.
Q. Where are you going?
A. We’re going to Sydney, to Melbourne, to Adelaide, to Tasmania, Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and Cairns. I think we’re going to Cairns. When you go to Tasmania, it’s a one-hour drive everywhere. If you want to go to Margaret River you have to fly all the way to Perth and then it’s a three-hour drive down. It’s big place.
Q. What will you do there?
A. There’s no question that what we’re going to be doing there is going to be tough. What we just did here at Nahm was tough, but what we’re going to do in Australia… well, it’s unique. We still need to plan a lot of things, but basically this is an exploration. We’re going to learn.
Q. So it’s research?
A. Yeah. We will explore, learn, write down ideas, meet people, and create a community. That’s what it’s about. Knowing where the produce comes from, knowing Australia, seeing the landscape, and becoming familiar with the places, with the places where things come from.
Q. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see things differently.
A. Absolutely. You know, it’s shocking how little even some of the chefs in Australia know about their own country, and how few places some chefs have been.
Q. Melbourne chef Ben Shewry was originally from New Zealand and look how he shook things up, using indigenous native ingredients…
A. Yeah, and I want to meet Chef Jock Zonfrillo from Orana restaurant in Adelaide. He’s even more into it. He’s going out and spending time with the Aboriginal communities.
Q. Have you already done a lot of research?
A. My problem is that I go straight from one thing to the other. There’s never any time for preparation. I always feel like I have a gazillion things to do. I really feel that the more you travel the better you understand what it takes to arrive after a long journey and feel “Yeah, I’m ready!” And Australia is a tough one. It’s so far away that it’s always a tough place to travel to.
Q. A lot of chefs find travel inspirational.
A. I really find travel so inspirational. I’ve just been here in Bangkok for a short time, but it’s amazing. I feel like I’ve been here for twenty days. I really feel so welcomed and I feel like I have a connection to the restaurant and the people and the place. I’m going to be back for sure.
Of course travelling is so inspirational – especially when we do what we do at Noma and that’s travelling to try to discover the taste of a region. It’s become essential for us to go to places where they have this rich tradition so we can learn and be inspired. It’s paramount.
Q. Where do you start?
A. One thing is to find ingredients – predominantly ingredients from a particular region – and really specialty ingredients as well that make people understand where they’re from and where they are. But then you come here and see the work they do with a mortar and pestle… you can only be inspired to go home and try that out yourself. To see what they do with unripe fruit, you can only go home and say: “we have unripe fruit too, why haven’t we done anything with it here?” Of course it’s massively inspiring.
Q. Asia is very special.
A. One thing that always inspires me when I travel to Asia as opposed to many Western places – and Thailand takes it to the next level – is the human generosity, the human spirit. It’s just so wonderful. It makes you connect to a place very quickly.
Q. You should come to Cambodia – Cambodian people are even friendlier. That’s why we promote local travel, to encourage travellers to meet people. Cooking classes are great for that. I think Terence has done more than anybody.
A. I imagine that going and meeting local people takes a special traveller. A lot of people would like an encounter but a lot of people don’t have the capacity to engage. A lot of people have a week off and they can’t make that commitment. Cooking classes are always a winner.
Q. Tell us more about the Australia plan.
A. Well, we’re closing Noma in Copenhagen over the winter and we’re all going down under. Everyone’s taking their families. We really want to immerse ourselves. We’re going to put our kids in school. I’m so excited about that. They’re going to be saying “g’day mate”. The restaurant will open after the Australia Day holiday weekend in January, February, March, and April.
Q. You’re taking everybody?
A. We’re moving the entire team to Sydney – everybody, from the waiters to the dishwashers. We’ve actually got permission to go in to one of the new Barangaroo buildings before people move in. We’ll be on the bottom floor. We just have to set up the restaurant ourselves, which will open end of January. But we will be there already with a full team and Beau and Thomas and so on by mid-December.
Q. Is a 20-day research trip long enough?
A. This coming visit is our third visit and we’ll probably go back – the sommeliers twice, the kitchen two times more… we’ll probably take 8-9 trips between now and then to set everything up and do the proper research.
Q. The Noma in Tokyo experience inspired this?
A. It was fuelled by Japan and the human experience we had there. But also wanting to really be in a place where it’s summer – experiencing Australia in the summer is something I’ve always wanted to do.
Q. But why Australia?
A. To me Australia is one of these places that has a landscape and an ingredient base that is so unusual and so, so, so different. It’s the opposite to Japan, for instance, where the culture was so different – the culture is like going to the moon and ingredient-wise and scenery-wise it’s a bit similar to home. It wasn’t that dissimilar to home. They have a winter season and the cold. It gets very cold. It was minus one for a month. It was a real winter. When we went thirty minutes from Tokyo it was freezing!
So in that sense Tokyo was a bit similar to what we know in Denmark of the landscapes and seasons but Australia is the complete opposite. Culturally it’s closer, we have to admit. But from a landscape and natural ingredient perspective it is so, so, so incredible and that’s what we’re basing it upon, all those weird and wild findings. I also love working with Australian chefs. I love the Aussies.
Q. And Sydney is magic in summer. We used to live on Sydney harbour. You’ll love being on the harbour.
A. Well, we’ll probably base our menu on the shoreline, so it will predominantly be a water and shoreline inspired cuisine, so it’s about really exploring a kilometre from the shore. So we’ll probably base it on the shoreline, and spice it with a lot of the wild herbs and indigenous ingredients, especially stuff from around the coast. There are quite a few native ingredients there on the coast, you’d be surprised. So that’s a mega thing. I’m so curious and excited. And we’re spending four days with Ben Shewry in Melbourne. (He also uses native ingredients).
Q. Does concentrating on the shoreline give you more focus?
A. Yes, it gives more focus. But it’s also because this is one of the things that I find unique about Australia. They have some of the best fish… some of the best fish and shellfish I’ve tried anywhere in the world is Aussie. And I think there’s a definite something going on with the coastlines for Australians. It’s part of your DNA.
There is really something going on with the coastline. I just love it. There are some parts of the Australian coast that are wild and there’s nobody there. Pristine beaches that look like something out of a movie – and yet not one single person.
Q. You need to travel along the coasts of Western Australia and South Australia and do what the grey nomads do and settle in and stay a while. (We explain what grey nomads are, how important the road trip is to Australians, the road trips we’ve done, and the epic around-Australia trip that is a rite of passage for so many Australian families).
A. I want to do it! But I want to do something like that with my kids! I don’t want to wait until I’m 60!
Q. So you’ll be using native ingredients too?
A. Yes, indigenous ingredients will definitely be a big part of it.
Q. We’ve had lots of experiences with indigenous guides learning about bush tucker, animal tracking and Dreamtime stories and it’s so important to us, we do it every time we go back to Australia…
A. That’s so wild to think about. I’ve been with two tribes myself in Australia. I’ve been in the Flinders Ranges, spent two days with the Iga Warta community and it was a very intense experience. I also spent two days with the Wardandi people in Margaret River. They were really organized, really amazing, really active, and very profound.
Q. Did those experiences inspire the Australia project?
A. I had an experience with the Iga Warta people on the second day – we really hit it off, we spent a great time together, we caught a kangaroo and we cooked it in the ground. At sunset they showed us a sacred place where there were murals and they told us the Dreamtime stories and showed us these 50,000 year-old murals. We were standing there and the sun was setting and he was showing us the murals – it gave me goose bumps.
He explained how they believe that man started in that area of the world and man lived for a very long time in peace and harmony for thousands of years, and then man started walking the planet. And then a couple of hundred years ago after people had been walking all over the planet, they came back to their birth land, and the people said: “Welcome back, brothers!”
The message posted on the Noma website today:
“Dear friends, we’re moving to Sydney!
Last year I had the greatest learning experience of my life. By moving our restaurant to Tokyo we opened ourselves to a new library of taste, an awe-inspiring culinary tradition both ancient and diverse. The immersion into Japanese culture challenged us to understand a new set of ingredients, develop new mindsets, and explore new possibilities. We came back to Copenhagen more lifted than ever: with bags of energy and inspiration, and many new friends.
We want to travel like this one final time… and lately I’ve been dreaming of Australia.
Australia has always drawn me in; its great cities, its generous people, and of course its ever-present sun. But what really boggles my mind is the differences you find in its landscapes and ingredients, because honestly I have never seen anything like it.
Since my first trip to Australia several years ago I’ve been wanting to spend more time there — exploring, tasting, and understanding its ingredients. From the tropical fruit in the north, to the native pepper leaf of Tasmania; the pristine fish and shellfish of the very south, and all the new exotic wonders in between. Our research forays will take us into the bush, around every shoreline, weeding our way through Flinders and Kangaroo Island. Somewhere along that course I may even get my first surfing lesson.
When we settle down we’re bringing the entire team, from dishwasher to general manager — our work family as well as our spouses and kids — but we’re leaving behind our ingredients in Copenhagen. All we’ll take from our kitchen is an open frame of mind and a passion for learning.
Now… how will we replace the winter beet with a coconut?”
Take a peek here at Terence Carter’s fascinating behind-the-scenes gallery of images from the Noma takeover of Nahm as part of the Gellinaz! Chef Shuffle.