Noma put Copenhagen on the world gastronomical map, when it topped the list of the 50 best restaurants in the world for the first time. Its chef, René Redzepi, said at the time that people would travel to Copenhagen just to eat there. And they did. Noma reached number one in 2010, when El Bulli closed. El Bulli set a precedent in culinary tourism, as Ferrán Adriá managed to get people from all over the world to travel to a small village on Spain’s Costa Brava just to discover his modernist cuisine.
Now, Redzepi has been one of the first to reverse the trend. If you can’t travel to Copenhagen, they’ll go to wherever you are. As well as Redzepi, Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck) and Grant Achatz (Alinea) use the months when they close their restaurants for refurbishments to transport their entire team, families included, to another country. These aren’t pop-up restaurants or 4 hands dinners, the occasional collaborations at other chefs’ establishments. They revamp the decor of a restaurant completely or create a new one from scratch, which they then open for just a few weeks or months, offering menus created especially using local produce.
It’s very exciting for a chef to try genuinely new flavours.
“Travelling is essential for me nowadays”, says Redzepi. “It’s about adapting my cooking to the best of other gastronomic cultures”. Therefore he has closed Noma until 2017, when it will reopen in a new location in Copenhagen, with an adjacent urban garden. In 2015 the whole team moved to the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Tokyo for five weeks. At the beginning of 2016, Noma Australia opened in the harbour district of Barangaroo in Sydney. “It’s very exciting for a chef to try genuinely new flavours, like the ones we found here. My encounters with the aboriginal community were like going to the moon. For them, fire is a crucial element. We are going to learn how to control it in order to find a delicate way of cooking this new produce from the Australian sea and coast, so that when we return home hopefully we’ll be better chefs thanks to this work”, states Redzepi.
However, the effort of moving an entire restaurant requires a lot of planning and reliance on the cooperation of local partners. To make Alinea in Residence in Madrid in 2016 a reality, Grant Achatz worked in partnership with the NH Collection Eurobuilding hotel. He has also relied on the cooperation of chefs Dani García and Mario Sandoval. The result is an adaptation – exclusive for this experience – of the menu from his Alinea restaurant in Chicago to Spanish culinary tradition. The space is totally new and disappears with the removal of Alinea to its next destination, Miami.
Thanks to these initiatives, more people have the chance to discover the best restaurants in the world. Chefs also enrich their knowledge through new produce and techniques that they then transfer to their menus. “We don’t want to turn ourselves into a museum”, says Achatz. “So we started from scratch. When will a restaurant have another chance to do this?”