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  • Writer's picturethe_maestro

Noma – Copenhagen, Denmark

Years before I came to understand what fine dining really meant––or rather, what it really could mean––my attraction to the best restaurants was far shallower than I care to admit. This is not to say these experiences, and the reasons I sought them out, were not meaningful. On the contrary––growing up as I did, afraid to even touch any food item outside my embarrassingly limited, carbohydrate-dominated sphere, when I finally learned to love food, and seek out what I viewed at the time as the “best” food in my region, these meals were the celebrations of a conqueror. As meek, melancholy, and fearful as I tend to be in many facets of my life, I actually did something of which I was immensely proud. I conquered my fear of eating. And every new meal that I viewed as a manifestation of that victory was a chance to, once again, rejoice in my triumph, as well as explore further this new, limitless universe.

My first tasting menu, 12 years ago.

So, why do I now view some of these early experiences as shallow? I suppose my attraction was also a bit status-obsessed. It’s unclear why. I never held my middle-class status in particularly low esteem. But eventually, with each new tasting menu, I was just checking boxes. The next Michelin-star restaurant. The added truffle or caviar course. The most expensive restaurant in a city. They were becoming trophies more than experiences. To be sure, these meals were always enjoyable, and often spectacular, but I had stopped learning and growing in my food journey, content to just be along for the ride rather than an active participant.

I remember exactly when this changed, or rather a particular experience that I can look back on as evidence of my emerging culinary apathy, which I also use as a perennial reminder and warning. Saison was the most expensive restaurant in San Francisco in the mid-teens. I really wanted to go to Saison, probably because I had embarked on a project of checking off the three-Michelin-starred list in the Bay Area, but also because I subconsciously craved the status symbol of being one of the lucky ones with the resources to dine at the most expensive restaurant in the Bay Area (despite really not having the actual resources to have any business dining here). To this day it’s the most I’ve ever spent, by far, at a restaurant on a per-diner basis.

The problem was that when I stepped in the door on a chilly December evening, I knew nothing about Saison except that it had three Michelin stars and an expensive tasting menu. I had done no research on the chef. I didn’t even know his name. And what Josh Skenes was doing was rather revolutionary in the American food world, and also exactly why his meals were so damned expensive––he was sourcing the absolute best version of each ingredient, picked, harvested, slaughtered, or caught on a fishing line at the precise right time and under the precisely right conditions to taste as much like that ingredient as it could, and the futzing with it as little as possible.

One course was just called “pumpkin hung over the fire for a few days,” and that’s exactly what it was, except it was the best pumpkin that had ever been grown, in the best soil, under the best conditions, by the best farmer, at the peak of its potential, cooked over curated wood from the best goddamn tree in the forest. But for me, I didn’t get it. I thought fine dining was supposed to be truffles, caviar, Japanese wagyu, and foie gras. There was none of that here. As I left, the host asked me how I enjoyed it, which I responded (honestly) that I did, and he said back “This is the right time and right place for how important this restaurant is.” He was right, but I was clueless.

Turns out Josh Skenes, despite being a rather mercurial and, well, controversial figure, was doing a version of the type of sourcing that has taken the food world by storm. I wish I’d known. Since then, I really do my research. I have learned much more about the world of fine dining, food sourcing, sustainability, and the ways restaurants and chefs can change the world. Restaurants doing this work, like Blue Hill at Stone Barns, are now my culinary pilgrimage sites. When I visit a new city, I know the food scene and the work of the city’s chefs better than most locals. And before I eat somewhere, I make sure I understand what the place is "all about."

As I write this introduction, I’m on a plane to Copenhagen. Six hours ago, waiting for my flight at Heathrow, I was despondent that a trip to Noma, widely considered to be both the best and most important restaurant in the world, was not in the cards. When I suggested to my family a visit to Copenhagen, Noma was the first thing on my mind––when I was a budding foodie, I had heard Noma was the best of the best, and very much wished to visit and check it off the list, without knowing exactly how important and revolutionary it was and still is. Today I know better, but the desire to visit is even stronger.

Sadly, it might be the hardest reservation in the world to score––they open their new reservations three times per year and book out months in advance within minutes of the release; it’s the type of restaurant where you book the table first and the flight second. There’s even a subreddit of people begging for tables. I had put myself on the waitlist months earlier, checking daily (or hourly) and trying to find any angle imaginable to get a slot. I’d missed a cancellation by seconds the day before while wandering around London and was crushed.

In one last forlorn gasp, I picked up my phone just to see if, perhaps, by some shred of divine luck, something had opened for the next day. The literal moment I opened my phone, the email came through––a cancellation for a party of two. Somehow, despite fighting the slow lounge WiFi, which nearly gave me a coronary, I emerged on the other end with a confirmation for a table at the best restaurant in the world, and decided to take my sweet Mama, who was in town with me visiting my sister and her boyfriend, as a Christmas gift.

And on Thanksgiving Day, no less!

A celebratory glass of bubbly after the reservation was confirmed

* * *

It’s important for both of my loyal readers to understand why Noma is so revered, but I'm not sure I can do it justice here. Twenty years ago, Denmark was one of the most dreadful countries for food in Europe. The average Dane’s diet was a lot of tinned fish, processed pork, and frozen vegetables. The best fine dining spots in Copenhagen were indistinct French and Italian places. As one prominent Danish food historian put it, "There was no such thing as Danish food culture."

Denmark’s Social Democrats commissioned young Danish food hippie and evangelist Claus Meyer to form a working group to figure out exactly why the food and nutrition universe in Denmark was so bad and how they could fix it. When the Social Democrats lost power in 2001, Meyer was promptly dismissed, but never satisfied, in 2003 he opened Noma, a portmanteau of “Nordisk mad,” or “Nordic food,” as a proof-in-concept spot to show the powers that be that he was right.

During the first year of Noma’s operation, it was little more than an haute French place using some scant examples of Nordic ingredients that Meyer had been rediscovering, but it was during this time that the restaurant’s real underpinnings were being established behind the scenes. Meyer assembled just over a dozen of the region’s brightest food minds to pen the Manifesto of New Nordic Cuisine, emphasizing hyper-local wild and farmed ingredient sourcing, reclaiming regional culinary traditions, sustainability, nutrition, and respect for nature. That 2004 document, as wild as it seemed at the time, has proven to be possibly the most important tome for the food universe in a century, and completely transformed the food landscape not just in Denmark, but the world over.

Copenhagen is now arguably the most important culinary city in the world

Danish chef René Redzepi was tapped by Meyer to head the kitchen at Noma shortly after. Redzepi was a true star, having worked at El Bulli in Spain, then the world’s paragon of fine dining, and under Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Napa. Redzepi’s father was himself a serious cook and taught René how to forage and farm during family visits to Macedonia, and at Laundry he absorbed Keller’s fondness for brilliant, seasonal ingredients. He was a perfect fit with Meyer’s philosophy, and together they made Noma what it is and transformed Scandinavia into the world's culinary epicenter in the process.

In 2010, the "Oscars of Fine Dining," the 50 Best List, shocked the world when it crowned Noma the number one restaurant in the world over reigning five-time champ El Bulli. It marked a critical turning point in the tides of the industry––the molecular gastronomy craze was over, and the era of the sustainable, hyper-local, and wild had begun. Since then, it's been crowned best in the world four more times, including this year, and earned three Michelin stars; meanwhile, the folks at Noma have exported the entire ethos of New Nordic well beyond the walls of the restaurant. Meyer worked in countries like Bolivia and Albania to develop a similar local commitment to sourcing and sustainability, building entire infrastructures of training so locals could continue the work. Redzepi founded Mad, a school and thinktank for progressive, New Nordic food culture, which has tackled topics like school lunches, health and nutrition, accessibility for underrepresented groups in the industry, food waste, and any number of other things. I could go on and on about the community work of Noma's people.

Suffice it to say that New Nordic's real legacy, aside from sustainability and sourcing, is the new role of the chef as activist––beyond just operating a fine dining restaurant, chefs these days take the social responsibility of cooking very seriously, and the world has Meyer and Redzepi to largely thank for it.

I'd encourage everyone to read some of these wonderful articles about Noma and the New Nordic food movement to get a grander sense beyond my admittedly cursory telling.

But hey, on to the food, right?

* * * * *

Noma is now at its second location, an old Danish military facility that they rent from the government perched in a marsh in an otherwise sort of industrial area between canals in the nether-regions of Copenhagen. When you arrive, the congenial host (who has worked there since day one) and a team of enthusiastic young Danes under dim lanterns greet you and usher you into a small greenhouse decked out with various plants in terracotta pots, a roaring fireplace, and four benches along the walls with pelts for seating. An adorable, very Danish host in an outfit that would be right at home at an REI brings us a warm hibiscus tea to conquer the Scandinavian chill and chats with us while we wait. Immediately you know that this is not your average fine dining spot.

One party at a time, separated by intervals of a few minutes, was taken out of the first greenhouse past two more greenhouses, one where they grow certain herbs and produce year-round under colorful grow lights, and one where they house their all-important test kitchen. After passing through an archway made of reindeer and moose horns, we did as we were told and turned right past a glowing fire, opened a giant wooden door, and were surprised to be greeted by an assemblage of the entire kitchen staff. Amazing.

This is a fine dining restaurant in Scandinavia, so I would be remiss to not mention the interior design elements. Noma has a lounge and a main dining room, and my understanding was that they were serving the full menu in the lounge for spillover from the main dining room as a result of tables being further apart, but the tables were pretty damn close in the lounge. In any event, our table in the lounge overlooked a classic Scandinavian midcentury modern space with blonde wood and brick, panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows, classic Scandinavian furnishings, and a handful of pelts on the wall and seats. The ceiling in particular was impressive––the blonde wood was in a tiered, overlapping pattern getting higher toward the skylight in the far corner. Meanwhile, dried late autumn flowers, leaves, and grasses graced our table.

The only decision we had to make was if we wanted beverages, and we both quickly chose the set wine pairing and let the multi-national, aggressively chill, and gregarious staff get to work. Before long we had our first pairing of the night. As you might expect, Noma serves almost exclusively organic and biodynamic wines without preservatives and other nonsense, and often leans, again unsurprisingly, toward natural wines––skin contact, unfiltered, or unfined. This first wine was no exception. From biodynamic winery Tanca Nica in Sicily, this wine, called "Soki Soki," is made a grape called Zibibbo, which I don't think I'd ever sampled. The winemakers, fighting the increasing control of Sicily's vineyard by big-name wine corporations, derive this fruit from the "nooks and crannies" of the island. It's brilliant, sunny, bold, and citrus-driven, with some lovely, nuanced floral notes. An excellent food wine.

One thing you have to be prepared for at Noma is you will eat some weird shit, and often that will include things you've never had before. During their "Game and Forest" menu, we are talking unfamiliar game and a whole lotta offal, in keeping with their nose-to-tail, minimal waste ethos. I had warned Mom about this in advance to prepare her, but I wasn't ready for the first course to be among the most challenging of the night. Dear reader––as I said to my mother––please stick with me!

A wild reindeer skull was presented on a plate with a horn spoon. The server described the dish as a custard made of reindeer brains and chestnuts, served in a geléed consommé of pheasant and pickled kombu (kelp). Turning the skull over revealed the goodies gelled into the "bowl." Right off to the races with a very Noma course. I found the dish to be spectacular––the creamy, slight game of the brains worked beautifully with the earthy chestnut while the pheasant broth displayed a richness that was cut through with the bites of briny kombu. Poor mom, however, would later tell me she was challenged by the course, and wasn't expecting the more obscure ingredients right away.

Next we had two small bites made with wild fruit from the region. First was a rose hip stuffed with quince, which was tasty and served the purpose of cleansing the palate after the unexpectedly rich first dish, but wasn't particularly memorable, and mom found it to be a bit aggressively tart. The dried plum next to it, however, was sensational, though I never got a chance to discover that it was stuffed with, even after eavesdropping on other tables as it was delivered. The oil in which it was served was a magnificent, subtly flavored concoction of elderflower and bee pollen.

Champagne followed, and of course Noma represents the region with a small, family producer with biodynamic certification. This is Piollot's 100% pinot noir permutation, giving it weight and a rounder mouthfeel, while the insanely extensive lees aging (four to six years) grants additional heft and complexity with no added sugar due to lack of dosage. I will say that it felt like this wine, along with a few others that followed, didn't get its due because the small pour was to pair with just tiny bites, so it was hard for me to get a grasp of the wine. I appreciated getting to know wines over two or three courses in the latter parts of the meal.

Two more little bites were up next––the first was a smoked quail egg with a "hat" of kombu, which was adorable but rather forgotten about when we took a bite of what was next––a "sandwich" of wild mushroom custard and truffles wrapped in a Mexican oregano leaf. This may have been the bite of the night––Noma gets its truffles from an obscure spot in Sweden, and they were just as earthy and aromatic as their more famous siblings from France and Italy, combining beautifully with the mouthwatering umami of local foraged mushrooms and the vegetal zip of the oregano. It was also one of two things I forgot to photograph, so I asked the gentleman at the table next to me if I could snap a picture of his. That's why it's blurry.

Domaine Mosse is one of the most celebrated producers of natural wines in the Loire Valley, and they've been a voice and mentor for many natural winemakers in the region. They specialize in chenin blanc, a versatile, sometimes aromatic, zingy grape that is particularly malleable for winemakers. Their chenin cuvée was served tonight, which demonstrates the crispness of chenin but with an unexpected slightly oxidative style that brought forth an aromatic character. Fantastic wine.

Since it was Game and Forest season for Noma, I was not surprised to see the next course featured wild boar––and also more mushrooms. The boar was the belly cut, cooked with chestnuts over the barbecue and served on a skewer with an Icelandic wasabi leaf. They don't use citrus at Noma, since it grows nowhere in Scandinavia, so they used a quarter of underripe quince to squeeze over the boar for acidity. Alongside, hedgehog mushrooms foraged from the forest were coated in truffle and a pine vinegar and also barbecued. Both were excellent, but the pine vinegar element of the mushrooms, no doubt a product of the restaurant's "Noma Projects" preservation and experimentation department, was an impossibly special component.

We were now getting into more substantial dishes, which meant many of the wines would span more courses than just tiny bites, which I welcomed. Noma specifically commissioned this Riesling from a producer in the Mosel, asking them to abstain from any sort of preservative techniques and keep the wine natural, a practice the winery had been mostly doing, but Noma insisted on 100%. The result was fantastic and Noma bought tons of it. Singing with apples, notes of tropical fruit, and that characteristic Mosel dry Riesling "petrol" aroma, it was an ideal match with the next two dishes, both of which featured fruits and root veggies.

The first of these was the only thing I allowed to be spoiled for me on Noma's Instagram, but I was glad because it served as an object lesson about meals here. The description the servers provided of the dish, more a soup, but called a "salad," served in a hollowed out apple and revealed when you lifted the apple up, was just "apple salad with black currant and quince." Here's what all was actually constituent of the dish, according to their Instagram:

The lesson here is that Noma's development of their flavors is so involved and multifaceted that it's almost not even worth trying to isolate all the components––in fact, it's better to just enjoy the dish! Can you imagine if the server had to read the Instagram description each time? And even then, I'm sure the Instagram description is still incomplete as to the utter artistry of the construction of this dish. And yes, it was extraordinary.

The ensuing beet course, too, I'm sure had myriad more components than were described, but the essence was a "sashimi" of golden beets, cooked in a seaweed broth and served with rose oil, roasted quince, and tangy white currants. I'll let myself be satisfied with that description, because the purity and magnificence of flavor in this dish, as well as the inventiveness, needs no further explanation. Wild roses are everywhere in Denmark this time of year, so rose oil––inspired.

Two meat courses were next, so it may surprise some readers to see a wine made from white grapes paired with it. "Orange" wines, however, share some characteristics with red wine, since the wine is macerated on the skins for some time, giving it grip, body, tannin, and intensely aromatic character. This wine, Dinavolo from Emilia-Romagna, is a quintessential Italian orange wine made from a combo of malvasia, ortrugo, and marsanne, and was textbook orange wine––might have been our favorite wine of the evening.

I warned you that things get weird here, right? And that they use... well... everything?

The next course was described simply as a slow-cooked reindeer ragout with grains. It was difficult for me to identify the cut, since it was largely minced, but the dish, topped with Scandinavian caviar (special for us and few other tables) and mixed in with earthy, nutty grains, was one of my favorites of the night. It would only be at the end of the meal, after receiving a copy of the menu, we would learn that the ragout was made of––stay with me here, folks––reindeer penis.


Now, I can understand why they don't disclose that when the dish is served! Another object lesson from Noma––things you don't know are be edible and delicious, or you might have a strong mental barrier against consuming, can, in fact, be wonderful. Green eggs and ham.

The next course is the other thing I forgot to photograph, and it's a real shame because it was one of the best things of the night. At its core, braised pumpkin was wrapped in a cabbage leaf, like a cannelloni, and served with a foamy sauce of tomato water and fermented barley butter. But as is always the case with Noma, there was much more than met the eye. When pressed after the course was finished, our server added that smeared on top of the pumpkin was a jam of fermented strawberry, and the fermented butter also included koji, a type of fungus used to saccharify grains but now understood to be an earthy, umami-granting ingredient in fine dining. Braised pumpkin and fermented strawberry––who thinks of such things?! The foam in particular was one of the best flavors I'd ever experienced.

Volnay is a well-known appellation in Burgundy, so you can imagine how happy I was to see a bottle of it arrive at the table. Nothing can be simple in the wine program at Noma, however, and this Burgundy from Frederic Cossard is quite extraordinary indeed. The pinot noir spends just a few days on the skins and is transferred not to oak barrels, but rather a wine vessel called a kvevri, a large earthenware aging vessel used in Georgian wine production, the oldest winemaking region known in the world. The result is a pinot noir that is unencumbered by any weight of oak, and it dazzles with its brilliant, yet spicy red fruit character.

We return to the obscure ingredient trajectory for a bit, though nothing can quite top the peculiarity of reindeer wang (and I'm not sure anything ever will). One in the modern Western world would not think of bear as a game animal, but Scandinavians have been consuming bears since prehistoric times. A fritter, or "baba," filled with bear meat and bear consommé was topped with an incredibly cheeky flaky circle of "duck skin" with a bear's face on it. Crazy. Later we would learn that the "duck skin" was another manifestation of our earlier object lesson––things are not as they seem. Noma Projects makes this with duck broth that has been reduced into dry sheets and aged for months with ancho chili for spice and sumac for acidity (no citrus, remember?). Aside was a spoon with bear caramel, which I, like a suburban dad, called "bearamel," with a few lemon thyme leaves.

If the staff concealed the primary ingredient in the phallus ragout, they did no such thing in the next serving, which was a special additional course for us and a few industry folks in the room (the table next to us, which didn't get it, was not pleased). Beneath some autumn leaves, clearly emerging from the serving bowl, was the cooked head and leg of a duck. The leg of the duck wasn't anything too out there, aside from the presentation––the glorious skin attached to the leg had been fried chicharron-style and topped with spices and sumac. The head, however, was the thing that I was afraid might send poor mom running for the hills––at the back of the head, the brains of the duck were exposed, cooked, glorious, and ready for eating with a tiny spoon. To my surprise, mom didn't flinch, and absolutely loved the duck brains, which she would later shrug off as "just tasting like duck" and then insist I send a photo of the dish to some of our more squeamish friends and family. Good for her!

Cool climate syrah is one of my favorite things these days, with its bountiful, silky pinot-like fruit character, but more blue and purple on the palate, with more structure and weight. Christian Tschida is a Czech winemaker who gathers grapes from Austria's Burgenland, and this syrah, an atypical grape for the area, is biodynamic and natural, and blooms on the palate with characteristic blue fruit, cassis, and a stony finish. Brilliant wine––I couldn't get enough of it, and fortunately, the pours kept coming with our final savory course.

I anticipated duck as the "main" course, since they were clearly employing otherwise unused parts of the duck with the prior, unscheduled bites. This was quite a spread, too. The breast of the wild duck was brilliantly cooked with a berry crust on the skin; we were warned to watch out for shot in the duck, since it was hunted wild, and we both found a tiny bit of shrapnel, which our server told us was good luck.

On the plate with the breast was a mushroom and seaweed jus, a cut of the fattiest part of the belly of the duck, a sandwich of greens and truffles, and a remarkable "feather" made from chestnuts, Norwegian brown cheese, and malted barley, which, to my delight, had more truffles stuck beneath it.

Alongside was an assortment of "Fallen things from the forest"––mulberries, pear, spruce tips, gooseberries, some manner of nuts, little herbs, pickled pinecone fronds (!), and, yes folks, a whole-ass pinecone. We were instructed to combine the flavors in various permutations with the duck, experiencing something new with each bite. Absolutely incredible, and yet another fascinating, food waste-minimizing, oh-so-Noma concept, with everything collected from fallen edibles on the forest floor.

As sad as I was, as I always am, that the savory courses had concluded, I felt more than satisfied with what was offered, and was looking forward to approaching their dessert courses. But first, they offered an unexpected final savory taste, which served as a remarkable palate cleanser. Herbs and pine boughs were tied in a bouquet and dusted with sumac, over which was poured a hot broth of mushrooms and black chestnut. The sumac, as mentioned earlier, is one way they achieve acidity in the absence of citrus, so while the broth was umami laden and rich, the sumac and herbs granted lightness and balance, effortlessly cleansing the palate to prepare for dessert.

The dessert wine was truly special, and yet another glimpse into Noma’s commitment to using otherwise discarded things. This wine was produced and then forgotten by the winemaker, Olivier Cousin, for years, leaving it in less-than-ideal conditions without doing all the things you do to a wine as it ages, like topping, etc. When he discovered it, he was certain it would be spoiled, but it was, in fact, spectacular. It reminded me of the story of the first madeira, which was sent over the Atlantic in a frigate but not consumed, and when it returned, the heat transformed the fortified wine into the spectacular tipple we now know as madeira. This dessert wine was one of the best wines I’ve ever consumed––slightly sweet, but still clean and acid-driven, with a distinct oxidative character and bursting with aromatic glory. It’s a wine you cannot buy anywhere; Noma bought all of it. We begged them to let us take one home, but they don’t have such a license. Though in many ways, that made it more special, because like each bite of food, we’d never get to experience the same wine again.

First up was an adorable little dessert of three spheres of milk parfait, almost like a mozzarella ball, topped with Cuban oregano and little sheets of jasmine tea and kombucha syrup "SCOBY"––a gelatinous product used in the making of kombucha that is an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” Just wild. How do they come up with this shit?

The second dessert was artfully presented in a gorgeous beeswax cup atop a honeycomb and dried poppy seed pod. Inside the beeswax cup was a delicate ice cream flavored with saffron, and atop was a sauce of vanilla beans and poppy seeds. Nuanced flavors, and at this point I had finally surrendered to just tasting the food and understanding it with my palate rather than trying to parse all the components, which was liberating. We decided to add some coffee to our meal in the anticipation of going to get drinks with Georgia and Jonas after, and as you might imagine, the coffee, locally sourced, was incredible.

The last bite of the night was also reindeer, drawing a full circle around a meal that started with the same animal. The presentation was also replicated––just like the skull that we overturned at the beginning, this time a femur bone was to be turned over to reveal a fudge made with reindeer bone marrow and topped with flowers, freeze-dried blueberries, and crystallized white chocolate. Sweet, but with the glorious, luscious umami of marrow, and a remarkable way to close the meal.

After a last gin and tonic made with, naturally, house-made tonic with local botanicals and Danish gin, and a slice of quince instead of citrus, it was time for a tour of the kitchen and facilities­––first the finishing kitchen, then the prep kitchen, then the Noma Projects lab, and then their brick wall with the signatures of everyone who has worked there, including the OG chef, René Redzepi himself.

* * *

Noma was once a trophy for me, back when fine dining was a commodity rather than a passion, and I was just checking boxes. The allure of eating at "the best restaurant in the world" was irresistible. Thank goodness I had to wait, when I finally knew what fine dining could actually mean. When I finally had done my research.

Noma is the best restaurant in the world––I don't doubt this after this visit. This is the best, most complete, surprising, wonderful meal I have had, and I could not have had it at any other restaurant. But the importance of Noma is not that it serves luxurious ingredients sourced from overseas, or has a fancy celebrity chef, or guys in designer suits pouring you vintage Champagne. Noma has none of these things. Instead, Noma is the best restaurant in the world because it has redefined food culture. Starting in Scandinavia, it has transformed food systems and perspectives all over the world. It has lifted up local, sustainable food cultures in every corner of the globe, bridging the cruel gaps of inequality of opportunity and granting access to good, nourishing, sustainable food. Meanwhile, it has shed wave after wave of acolytes committed to its work––local agriculture, artisan products, minimizing food waste, sustainability––who are now the work's missionaries.

Food was initially important to me because it was the first big thing that I truly conquered. But restaurants like Noma remind us that food exists, and should exist, in a plane well beyond oneself. A meal at Noma is a communion with the most important trajectories of food culture in a century. Here, you are not just financially supporting an institution that is actually changing the world with the way they think about food––you are also an active participant in what the foodways of the future could look like if places like Noma, or Blue Hill at Stone Barns, or dozens of other restaurants and advocacy groups around the world succeed in even a fraction of their lofty ambitions.

As Mom and I leave the dining room and are escorted to our taxi by our lead server, I thank her for the extra bites and special treatment we got that evening. She just shrugs and replies, "You know what we are about and you appreciate it. We want to show you in turn how we much appreciate your appreciation." Here, there is no ego. No pretense. There's just purpose.

Noma should remind all of us that we make profound daily choices around food. There are pernicious inequalities in food access driven by capitalist systems of food production that get worse by the day––not everyone has access to the types of things that are nourishing, sustainable, healthy, and give back to the world around them. But some of us can. The extra dollar you spend to get a gallon of milk from a local dairy––that matters. A decision to not throw away but instead use an unwanted but otherwise delicious part of a vegetable or protein––that matters. The extra work required to get produce from a local farm as opposed to the convenience of that which has been shipped thousands of miles to your supermarket across the street––that matters. Noma is trying to show us that these things matter. It's not just a fine dining restaurant. That's just it's proof-in-concept fruiting body. It is a steward of all that can save our food system. If Noma can do this work, we can, too.

And for that work, I am thankful.

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Jan 14, 2023


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