Tulum, Mexico / Sydney, Australia – To kick-off the newest issue of Frame magazine, we’ll be posting five days of exclusive online content throughout the month.
Noma – a portmanteau of two Danish words, nordisk and mad – means ‘Nordic food’. Pop-ups in Australia and Mexico may seem odd for a restaurant so obviously rooted in Scandinavian cuisine. Stranger still that the temporary restaurants would seek to prioritize local ingredients, design and resources that veer so far from Noma’s roots. And yet, when you start to dig into head chef René Redzepi’s philosophy, it makes perfect sense.
‘The potato cannot be separated from the soil in which it has grown,’ we read in Redzepi’s book, Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine. ‘And, just like the tree and the potato, the meal on the plate is part of a bigger system.’ The introduction reveals the restaurant’s raison d’être: ‘The guests dining at Noma should feel a sensation of time and place in their very bones.’ Redzepi’s attention to local ingredients is what earned him the top spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants four times between 2010 and 2014.
Noma Australia was open for 11 weeks in early 2016 and Noma Mexico for just seven weeks in the spring of 2017. Despite their short tenancies, each left a profound mark on the local community. Foolscap Studio in Australia and La Metropolitana in Mexico were responsible for the overall concepts, the interior architecture and many of the venues’ individual design elements.
At Barangaroo in Sydney, Redzepi’s vision was to hold a mirror to Australia. Oxidized earth in varying colours, gathered from different parts of Australia, was compressed into blocks to express the monolithic earthiness of Australia’s landscape. Crucially, it could also be returned to the land without leaving a large environmental footprint. Indoor flooring was inspired by Western Australia’s salt lakes, and outdoor flooring featured Australian granite. References to water included light, shadow, glass and a seafood-centred menu.
The restaurant in Tulum, Mexico, was also defined by sense of place, a clearing in the jungle. ‘We began sketching out the place, right there in the dirt,’ says Maria Pacheco, head designer at La Metropolitana. ‘Our challenge was to keep the jungle mood intact but also to create the comfort of fine dining.’ Her words explain why so much of the restaurant was out of doors, under a canopy of leaves. Tents raised when it rained alluded to colourful Mexican tents sold at the local market. The concrete-ceilinged kitchen lacked gas, so everything had to be cooked using wood or charcoal.
At both pop-ups, most of the furniture and dining utensils were locally sourced, painstakingly researched in different parts of the country to find the perfect conceptual fit. ‘René is always looking for coherence – a place where everything makes sense,’ says Mauricio Guerrero, partner at La Metropolitana.
In Sydney, local designers stepped in to fashion staff uniforms, and details down to flower arrangements and hand-thrown ceramics were researched through a local lens. Tasmanian wallaby pelts draped over the backs of chairs nodded to the animal skins at Noma Copenhagen, a handcrafted façade showcased spotted gum plywood, and handblown glasses completed the picture. ‘The gathering of materials and expertise mimics Noma’s cultivation process,’ says Winteridge, who admires the way Redzepi and his team ‘foraged around the country to create a unique menu and dining experience’.
Local produce played a big role, too – something the restaurant will continue to promote in Noma 2.0, set to open in Copenhagen at the end of the year. Redzepi wants to abandon the convention of sealing a menu with a slice of meat or fish. The chefs in Copenhagen will cook with the seasons, harvesting ingredients predominantly from the sea during colder months, when little grows in the ground, and serving an abundance of vegetables, plants and flowers when it’s warmer.
The world’s #1 restaurant departed as quickly as it arrived, but it made an indelible impact on Australia and Mexico in terms of cuisine, culture and communities. ‘The Noma team was so enthusiastic about our country that we began to see Mexico in a different way.’ says Guerrero.