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Noma Australia opens its doors

Aboriginal history and the Australian BBQ informed the philosophy behind chef René Redzepi's menu at Noma Australia.

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Have you reached peak Noma yet? Sick of hearing  foodie friends bang on about how they missed out on tickets to the Denmark-based restaurant's 10-week stint at Barangaroo in Sydney? Or mates who did score a seat make a case for why the $485  a person cost  (before any booze from the all-Oz wine list, mind) is totally reasonable? Or seeing pictures of its 38-year-old chef and fearless leader Rene Redzepi​ in your social feed? Well, expect to be hearing a lot more  as Noma Australia finally opens its waterside doors  on Tuesday, January 26.

Here's the thing, though: the hubbub is warranted. The four-time winner of  The World's 50 Best Restaurants is now in Australia and it's exciting,  whether you're eating there or, like me, you're not.

Noma in Sydney: (from left) Tess Davison, Katherine Bont, Rene Redzepi, James Spreadbury, Tamara Archer and  Beau Clugston map out their Barangaroo menu.
Noma in Sydney: (from left) Tess Davison, Katherine Bont, Rene Redzepi, James Spreadbury, Tamara Archer and Beau Clugston map out their Barangaroo menu. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Redzepi has spent a  lot of time exploring our country  during three research trips with sous-chefs Thomas Frebel​ and the Australian-born-and-bred Beau Clugston​. The amount of time invested, and kilometres travelled, for a pop-up lasting 10  weeks is staggering (especially when you include the distance travelled by the 100 Noma staff who flew from Denmark for the occasion).

When the Instagram shots of dishes start rolling in from diners' phones at lunchtime, I'll be tuned to the "NomaAustralia" hashtag like a kid watching the moon landing, not because Redzepi is on the pans, but because I'm interested in what that amount of research and development is going to teach me about food in my country.

At the time of writing, I have no idea what any of the dishes are going to be on the Noma Australia menu. Partly because Redzepi wants to surprise his guests and partly because he won't know himself until right down to the wire.

Snow crab will be an ingredient in Redzepi's Sydney kitchen mix.
Snow crab will be an ingredient in Redzepi's Sydney kitchen mix. Photo: Edwina Pickles

I caught up with the reasonably frazzled, but still highly animated, chef to discuss the new restaurant.

How's the menu creation coming along?

We've found so many good ingredients, but the question is how much of them we can get on a regular basis and we still don't know. Things are still coming in and will continue to do so right up until to the very end. What we do know is that the menu will change quite dramatically throughout the 10 weeks we're here. No question about that. Like, we got bunya nuts in. But, we only have them for the first three weeks. We have them fresh right now and fresh bunya nuts are stunning.

Fresh bunya nuts.
Fresh bunya nuts. Photo: Edwina Pickles

It's like that with everything. Anything from marron to abalone we're going to have to be very creative. It's very seasonal. Australia is a place where you have to be very creative. You have to constantly adapt and change to weather, to light conditions, to everything.

Were you expecting it to be such a large challenge before you arrived?

Yeah. I expected it to be a bit like Denmark, to tell you the truth, but the difference is in Denmark we've done it for 12 years so we've been able to build a community of people that work together. So right now we're sort of going in and adapting to the grid, yet we also need to have things that are not a part of the grid, you know, and that's the challenge. But, it's so much fun.

The biggest experience for all of us has been for Beau. Because for him, this is his home. For us, it's not a surprise that we're surprised. Imagine having lived your life in a place and you realise "Oh. Maybe I don't really know it." And one of the biggest surprises to me has been that there's so much stuff still to be discovered. That you can still be an explorer of food.

Because a lot of these foods aren't super readily available, the work that's been done to them is very young. Very fresh. Look at a strawberry for instance. The work that's been done on the strawberry throughout the world is unparalleled. But, with Australian ingredients, it's just opening up. We're still kind of figuring out what are we actually going to with this? How are we going to do this? What's nice to do?

I'm interested to see what influence, or even legacy, Noma Australia has on our local produce and restaurants when you guys pack up and leave. Is that something you care about too?

I don't care about influence. If you go to work to influence or create a legacy, there's something wrong in your life. Because at the end, nobody is going to care unless you're Gandhi. Seriously. You should go to work to make yourself happy and make whoever you work for happy. I just want to surprise people.

 

Missed a table at Noma? Good Food and Melbourne's Cinema Nova are presenting a free advance screening of the Redzepi feature documentary Noma, My Perfect Storm on Tuesday, February 9 at 6.30pm. Claim your double pass at RSVP@kabukupr.com.au. First in, best dressed.

Tickets to the February 8 Sydney premiere of Noma, My Perfect Storm (including a Q&A session with Redzepi) are available here.