It has been a monumental three weeks for René Redzepi and his team at Noma. First, the Danish gastronomic mecca claimed a long-awaited third Michelin Star in Norway. Then they were crowned the No. 1 restaurant on the planet for a fifth time by the World’s 50 Best Awards in Antwerp on Tuesday.
With the coronavirus pandemic forcing last year’s list to be scrapped due to reasons we are all well and truly over, it was the iconic new Nordic restaurant that was still standing when the list was whittled down from 50 to one in Belgium, topping the list for the first time since 2014, after winning in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Denmark may have had only two entries on the list, but they were both at the very top of the order with Rasmus Kofoed’s Geranium – which is based inside F.C. Kobenhavn’s stadium – finishing in second spot, ahead of legendary Basque restaurant Asador Extebarri, Lima dining destination Central and Barcelona’s boundary-pushing Disfrutar, which is run by three El Bulli alumni.
Rules are made to be bent and broken when it comes to the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. But as it currently stands in the rulebook, wherever that may be written, Noma will no longer be eligible for the award in future, with those who win the Oscars of the gastronomy world elevated to the Hall of Fame and excluded from future lists, just like 2019 winner Mirazur was this year.
With Noma already in the Best of the Best Hall of Fame under its original location, which is a slightly eyebrow-raising technicality, but one that was made due to a change in location, concept and ownership, we may not hear too much from Redzepi at these events in future. Although I wouldn’t guarantee it. In a room packed full of the most influential men and women in the culinary world, no one shines brighter than the diminutive Danish-Macedonian. Not even French dynamo Dominique Crenn from San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn, who won the Icon Award.
But despite his unrivalled status in the world of avant-garde cuisine, even Redzepi stared his mortality in the eye when the world was brought to a screeching halt by a highly contagious virus eighteen months ago. Some of the best restaurants in his own city were forced to close permanently. Was he terrified that his reign was over?
“100 per cent,” Redzepi told Man of Style when asked about his immediate fears when the pandemic hit at the World’s 50 Best press conference on Tuesday night. “Sometimes when you talk about how it was in March 2020, it feels like talking about how you used to be able to smoke in aeroplanes, you know? Nobody can remember that anymore.
“We had a plan we were going to pool all the money that we had into a war chest and then we would pool all the staff onto different couches and then we would use the war chest to feed people. We thought it was going to be that bad in those first three or four weeks or five weeks. It was bad.”
What El Bulli did for gastronomy in the 2000s, Noma did in the 2010s and, quite remarkably, is still doing today. They are universally recognised as the most influential restaurant on the planet – or galaxy, to steal a word Redzepi used in his acceptance speech – and many draw inspiration from Redzepi. After so much time at the summit, there is no hidden secret behind Noma’s stunning success, according to the chef-owner.
“We’ve been open eighteen years and I don’t want to sound like a broken record and say it’s all about the team, but the secret is seventy-nine different secrets, and they all have names; one of them is Ana; another one is Kenneth; one is Peter; the list goes on,” he said.
“If you are able to find that as a group of individuals and build an energy source where everyone contributes, then a special energy happens and that I think is our secret.”
The 2021 list included entries from 26 different countries and included eight debutants, along with two returning restaurants as re-entries. Spain and the United States both produced the most entries on the list with six apiece, with the European powerhouse boasting two in the top five, while New York’s Mexican eatery Cosme topped the list for America at No. 22.
Much to the chagrin of those in the room from the United Kingdom, only two restaurants were recognised with Shoreditch neighbours, The Clove Club and Lyle’s, landing at No. 32 and No. 33 respectively.
No Australian restaurants featured in the top-50, with Ben Shewry’s iconic Ripponlea restaurant continuing to slide the long list – which couldn’t be further from his mind given Melbourne’s current plight – from No. 84 to No. 97, while Dan Hunter’s Birregurra destination leapt from No. 101 to No. 57.
Softly-spoken Basque grill master Victor Arguinzoniz was recognised for his significant influence on the culinary community with the Chefs’ Choice Award – the only award voted on exclusively by the chefs – midway through the list reveal before his out-of-the-way, impossible-to-get-a-reservation-to steak kingdom was named on the podium once again.
Prior to Tuesday’s awards ceremony, Peruvian Pía León, who is the wife of Central head chef Virgilio Martinez and chef-patron of Lima’s Kjoll, which finished No. 95 on the list, was named the World’s Best Female Chef – an award which continues to draw criticism since the late, great Anthony Bourdain first led the condemnation back in 2013. After five restaurants run by female chefs made the top 50 in 2019, only four made the list this year. Not the type of progress many were hoping for.
More than 1,000 chefs, writers, restaurateurs and food critics comprised of an even gender split voted on the 2021 list. To counter the restrictions on international travel and limitations on fine dining in the past 18 months, the list was created from a combination of the votes cast in January 2020 – which were never published – and a fresh vote in March of this year.
After finally claiming a third star in September – seriously, how did it take this long to happen? – and returning to the top of the most scrutinised and publicised restaurant list in the world, Redzepi made a point to bid farewell on Tuesday night. It may be goodbye from the pressure of topping this list, but it will be hello, once again, from guests far and wide in 2022 as travel continues to become normal again. Good luck getting a reservation to Noma anytime soon.
|10||The Chairman||Hong Kong||China|
|13||Don Julio||Buenos Aires||Argentina|
|15||Lido 84||Gardone Riviera||Italy|
|17||A Casa do Porco||São Paulo||Brazil|
|29||Reale||Castel di Sangro||Italy|
|31||Restaurant Tim Raue||Berlin||Germany|
|32||The Clove Club||London||UK|
|35||Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet||Shanghai||China|
|36||Hof Van Cleve||Kruishoutem||Belgium|
|41||Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen||Paris||France|
|44||Le Bernardin||New York||USA|
|45||Nobelhart & Schmutzig||Berlin||Germany|
|48||Atelier Crenn||San Francisco||USA|