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Inside Noma Projects Night, René Redzepi's Creativity Catalyst

Sous Chef Sam Nutter (UK) discusses his "Juicy Balls" project with Redzepi.
Sous Chef Sam Nutter (UK) discusses his "Juicy Balls" project with Redzepi.

As the organizer of the forthcoming MAD Foodcamp Symposium in Copenhagen, food writer Ali Kurshat Altinsoy has spent much time of late at the restaurant noma. Today, he takes us inside René Redzepi's kitchen and provides an inside look at Projects Night, a curious weekly tradition at the restaurant which has gained attention thanks to Redzepi's twitter account. Here goes:


[Photos by Ali Kurshat Altinsoy] It's 2AM on Saturday night — or rather Sunday morning — in Copenhagen. The sun will rise again in just over two hours here. And after eighty hours of work — five lunches and five dinners — noma's thirty or so chefs are still in the kitchen.

Sous chefs, chefs de partie, and a score of eager stagiaires surround René Redzepi, stuffing themselves into a space normally barely big enough for seven or eight chefs. Rows of young men and women, boys and girls too, stand between the workstations, sitting atop them or crowding the doorways on all sides, while service staff continue cleaning down the restaurant, literally working around the chefs. Sometimes, a small number of late-leaving guests are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the action through the kitchen windows as they await their taxis.

It's busy. It's loud. But when Redzepi asks, "Okay, so who's first?" there is instant silence. Projects Night has begun.

One chef from each section takes turns introducing a dish, snack, ingredient, or even an idea that they've spent that week working on. On a typical night, James, an Englishman, might speak about soil quality and growing tomatoes on his windowsill, while a former school teacher from Maine will lecture on nixtamalization, or Carol from New York will present a dessert of fresh goat cheese, cherry and lovage. On another night, Norwegian Jo cooks "salmon lost in the forest underbrush," Australian stagiaire Tony does his take on reef and beef with sweetbread and scallops, before Mexican Sergio offers his version of tacos al pastor made with veal.

After each dish is introduced and explained, Redzepi has a taste. As he deliberates over this mouthful, a flurry of thirty hands — thirty forks or thirty spoons — assaults whatever is left. A Q&A follows. The chefs praise, criticize, and offer suggestions to each other. Most often, taking on board everyone's comments, the presenter will go on to improve their recipe and return next time with a new rendition of it.

"It's educational," declares Redzepi. "There are so many food professionals perfect at executing recipes, but when asked to cook something they enjoy or a piece of themselves, they struggle. Figuring out what represents you on the plate never starts too early. If you know that, you will be cooking better."

Saturday night projects have been an important feature of the restaurant for almost three years. Before that, when noma was much smaller, every chef had to exhibit something at the end of every day — not an entire dish, more often just a potential component of one. It is a practice that has caught on: Other Copenhagen restaurants, as well as some overseas, too, have learned of and adopted the idea.

Over the past year, however, Redzepi has taken this concept even further. Last August, for the first time, noma prepared a "project's lunch," in which each chef de partie was responsible for making their very own snack and course. They could cook whatever they wanted, and even Redzepi didn't know what was coming.

For Redzepi, creativity, constant innovation, and imagination are fundamental to how noma functions and the key to its success. Projects has become one of the major catalysts in the restaurant's process.

—Ali Kurshat Altinsoy

· All noma Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All René Redzepi Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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