Last week, Noma co-founder, restaurateur, and entrepreneur Claus Meyer opened his latest Copenhagen endeavor, The Standard. And it is quite the undertaking: Three restaurants combine in one giant complex, along with a jazz club and two bars. In the following interview, Meyer explains how The Standard aims to educate jazz lovers about high-end food as well as introduce food lovers to jazz music — which, starting on Friday, will be livestreamed and available on demand on The Standard Live TV website.
Meyer further discusses his high hopes for Studio, a New Nordic restaurant from Noma alum Torsten Vildgaard that Meyer says was a bit of a risk given the trend away from gourmet restaurants in Copenhagen. He also reflects on the early months of Gustu, his new restaurant in Bolivia, and compares them to the early days at Noma which — as he also pointed out in a TEDx talk last year — "was no feast either." Here's the interview:
How did the opening go last week?
We are very happy with the opening. I had a feeling that we started so close to what we wanted to be. So I think that we had a very fine start indeed.
You managed to open all the concepts at the same time?
Yeah, I'd never tried anything like that before. I'm glad you asked the question because many people take it for granted, but we definitely were in big trouble with finalizing all the remodeling and getting furniture in. Roberta Gambarini was there to sing. That was planned one and a half months in advance. So we had to be ready. But actually we ended up opening everything at the same time according to plan. We've been holding a little bit back on the number of customers, maybe 25 percent [of them].
How did the complex all come together? It started with the jazz club, right?
Now and then I get the feeling that the moment is right or I feel myself attracted to something. In this case, I had been talking to the famous Danish piano player Niels Lan Doky for a couple of years about his dream of combining high-level international jazz and high-level gastronomy. Normally you have gastronomy without music or with lousy music, or you have jazz with lousy food. So you normally don't have high-end of both in one single building. Under the same roof, we're able to get both things into your mind during one night.
I like the idea of being somebody who helps other people realize their dreams. So I tried to help Niels realize his dream of combining the two. It wasn't really my dream; it was more his dream. But then a couple of former Noma guys suddenly told me that they would love me to help them start a restaurant. And then this fantastic building, this former Custom House building was suddenly vacant. So eventually I not only helped those guys, but also ended up investing myself and my company in that venture.
Niels Lan Doky and Claus Meyer. [Photo: Isak Hoffmeyer]
So since it's not the jazz and the restaurant in the same space, is the idea for people to go out to dinner and then go to the jazz club?
The jazz program is world-class — really high-end music played by some of the greatest people on the jazz scene in a very small, intimate room. And we try to keep the price very low. Normally musicians only play one night in the city. Here they play at least two weeks, two times a day. So by utilizing their presence in our country, in our club in that way, we can actually have a pretty low price per listener. We only charge something like $40. A lot of our restaurant guests don't normally frequent jazz clubs. But if it is their plan [to spend] one night in The Standard then, of course, they are very tempted to add $40 on their bill, sacrifice another hour of their life, and get a mind-blowing jazz concert just 40 meters from their feet.
So somehow we recruit international jazz-lovers who fly in from Tokyo or wherever to [dine at] the restaurants. But, more than that, we recruit a brand new jazz club audience by getting them in because of the food. Already now we have different types of jazz music that is being played in each of the restaurants according to the moment of the day. So, for instance, in the most culinary ambitious of the restaurants, Studio, we play jazz from the '30s and '40s. This creates a phenomenal joyful party — but not too much like in London where people are drunk and can't hear anything. You have that very nice, elegant jazz. So kind of a Great Gatsby ambiance. There's a lot of synergy. Those who don't go to the jazz concert still feel as though they are in a house with a jazz club. The whole house is kind of vibrating from morning to night.
So just jazz permeating the building.
When guests are formally in the house, jazz is being played. Of course, some of the chefs might play rock 'n roll at some moment, I don't know, when the guests aren't there. But it's interesting for the chefs to speak to great musicians and also evidently great musicians love to eat fantastic food before they enter the scene. I don't know if they play better music, but they seem to take great joy in getting spoiled with fantastic food before they start playing. So I think in the long run there's a lot of karma coming out of this.
What do you mean?
Not only do [the musicians] play for an audience, but they are also spoiled in Copenhagen for 10 days while they do those concerts. So I think we can see from the first week, at least judging from Roberta Gambarini, that these days in her life [have a] place in her heart. When you play with the same guys for 10 days, you get some kind of intimacy and you feel some sort of belonging to the place. But you have to stay there for more than two days to actually experience it. I think we all know that when we don't just run around from one place to another, but we hang around for a certain amount of time in one place then that creates something that is unexpected.
And how is the reception so far among the diners? Has it been really busy?
I mean, I'm maybe not the right person to answer. I have to say that people love it. I don't think that the demand has risen because of the fact that people have screamed to their neighbors that this is fucking fantastic. But rather because it's the biggest restaurant opening in Copenhagen for five years. So the size of this itself produces of course a lot of interest.
But it's three very distinct restaurant concepts. We have got extremely good feedback on all of them, not least [of all] the most expensive one [Studio]. I was a little bit afraid of that one. Because all the top chefs these days are opening bistros. It's very rare these days that you open a restaurant that has a declared ambition to win Michelin stars. Formal gourmet restaurants are a little bit rare these days in Copenhagen. So our restaurant is extremely ambitious and the prices are a little bit high. Not very high, but a little bit high. And that one is producing extremely good feedback. Maybe better than the other ones.
Studio at The Standard, Copenhagen. [Photo: Facebook]
You say you were afraid of opening Studio, the ambitious one. Why did you? Did you ever consider scaling it down?
No. The guy who runs that one is one of the most talented chefs in the globe. [Torsten Vildgaard] was the one who developed the dishes for Noma in the test kitchen for four years. And I've known him for 15 years. He's an extremely talented guy and he wanted to do exactly this kind of thing. He is very ambitious. Either we made a gourmet restaurant for him or he wouldn't be part of it. And I wanted this friend of mine to be part of it, so there was no choice. But there was a little bit of doubt if Copenhagen could absorb another gourmet restaurant. But dining in Copenhagen is becoming increasingly popular, not only amongst international visitors and tourists, but also among Copenhageners.
And so The Standard has opened not too long after Gustu opened in Bolivia. How has Gustu been going?
We have had a fantastic traffic down there and a lot of very happy international guests. I think we've had a little bit difficulty connecting to the Bolivians, so one of our challenges is to get local diners to frequent us as happily and as often as people who come from Australia or Europe or the United States.
How do you reach out to them?
I don't really know exactly how I'm going to do it. But the first year at Noma was no feast either. It was a nightmare, the first year of Noma. [Nobody understands] when you suddenly say, "Hey, what you thought was your cuisine was not your cuisine. This is your cuisine." Because the point is that it is new and it has never been there before. At Noma in the beginning, people wanted French food, they wanted Spanish food, they wanted burgers, they wanted pizza. Anything but New Nordic food. But things have changed.
So your experiences with Noma can give you a little more optimism for Gustu.
We have no reason to be pessimistic. We have something like 60 guests each day as an opening average and I think that is a pretty high number. And we have gotten the most fantastic reviews from The Guardian, from the Financial Times, from the New York Times, from Bloomberg. Amazing reviews. So, I mean, we may end up being on the list of the 50 Best Restaurants in South America and maybe that alone will change a lot of things.