Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant that helped to define a genre of ultra high-end, locally foraged, and culinarily groundbreaking cuisine, announced that it will close its doors in 2024. No, really: After several announcements over the years that Noma was temporarily closing, opening up pop-up locations in Mexico, Japan, or Australia, becoming a pandemic-era burger joint or otherwise reinventing itself, the renowned restaurant is shutting down. For good this time. Once the restaurant closes its doors this final time, Noma will transform into a full-time food lab, which essentially means the newest player in the world of direct-to-consumer food products (like Wild Rose Vinegar and Smoked Mushroom Garum) is the world’s most famous restaurant.
“To continue being noma, we must change,” reads a statement on the restaurant’s website. “Winter 2024 will be the last season of noma as we know it.” The restaurant is known for fantastical and sometimes eye roll-worthy dishes like Moldy Egg Tart and Reindeer Heart Tartare and garnered three Michelin stars in 2021, as well as several first-place rankings on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Opened in 2003 by Claus Meyer and René Redzepi, Noma and its culinary team pioneered a style of cooking that came to be known as New Nordic, relying on local ingredients that often have to be painstakingly foraged and prepared. These labor-intensive processes and the punishing schedules needed to execute them simply cannot coexist with fair, equitable, and humane work practices, Redzepi told the New York Times. “It’s unsustainable,” he said. “Financially and emotionally, as an employer and as a human being, it just doesn’t work.”
Across the internet, critics, celebrity chefs, and fans have expressed a mixture of sadness and reverence, along with a healthy dose of skepticism. Padma Lakshmi tweeted that the closure was “Sad, but it makes sense.” Food writer Cathy Erway wondered if this could signal “the death of tweezer cuisine,” and Eater correspondent Jaya Saxena spoke directly to the reservation-chasing Noma nerds, tweeting “Oh yeah you were absolutely gonna go to Noma until just now.”
Noma’s closure announcement comes just months after the restaurant began paying its interns. In October of 2021, the restaurant announced that for the first time, its interns, known as stagiaires or stages in the industry, would receive pay. In the world of fine dining, interns are rarely paid, and routinely asked to maintain grueling work hours in exchange for the invaluable “experience” of working at a top restaurant. Because Noma is arguably the most prestigious kitchen in the world, these interns came from around the globe to learn from the most well-regarded chefs in the industry. As the New York Times and the Financial Times report, many did not receive the education they’d expected, or experience the working conditions they hoped for. As Noma prepares to close, here are six allegations about working conditions that some interns faced at Noma.
Many interns found themselves performing menial tasks (producing 120 perfect fruit-leather beetles, for instance) for the duration of their time at Noma, according to the New York Times.The same Times story quotes an intern who recalls being forbidden from laughing in the kitchen.A former Noma intern described his time at the restaurant to the Financial Times as akin to being “kidnapped from life,” due to the grueling schedule.Until just a few months ago, approximately 30 interns were working unpaid 16 hour days, according to the same Financial Times piece.The Financial Times also mentions one front of house intern who allegedly recalls seeing kitchen interns be made to pluck feathers off of ducks outside, in the freezing rainA former intern interviewed by the Financial Times alleged that the restaurant misled interns about the number of hours they would be working before they arrived.