Learning from Noma


I am profoundly interested in the flourishing of performance analysis and the development of a growing community of performance analysts.
I am fortunate that I have time to think about this flourishing and to explore other professional activities that might enlighten and enrich how we observe, record and analyse performance.
Earlier this week I was discussing art, today it is cuisine.
I have been thinking about what performance analysts can learn from the experiences of the Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen.

The Restaurant

Noma is a 45-seat restaurant near the Greenlandic Trading Square (93 Strandgade). It was established by René Redzepi and Claus Meyer in 2004  in a waterfront warehouse. Their mission:

In an effort to shape our way of cooking, we look to our landscape and delve into our ingredients and culture,
hoping to rediscover our history and shape our future.

The Restaurant received two stars in the Michelin Guide in 2008 and was named Best Restaurant in the World by Restaurant Magazine in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Anne Marie Barsøe (2013) observed:

The massive impact and success of Noma and its young charismatic founder Rene Redzepi is due to the fact, that Noma is much more than a restaurant. Noma is the epicenter of a global movement among chefs turning their attention back to nature.

The Chef

Velimir Cindrić (2012) has written a detailed account of Noma’s founder and head chef, René Redzepi.
Velimir reports:

Since he had no idea what to do and was not good at school, he dropped out of ninth grade, at fifteen. Chance led him to catering school, following his friend who wanted to become a cook. He was quickly hooked, reading about French cooking, great chefs like Carême and Escoffier, about the organization in French restaurants and kitchens, so he took down posters of pop stars and put up those of then popular chefs – Robuchon and Ducasse.

At the age of nineteen, René went to work at Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier with its three-Michelin-star French kitchen. He went on to spend two seasons at El Bulli in Roses, Spain.
Four years later he became the head chef at the newly-established Noma. He has been there from inception to present day.
There are two Phaidon Publications that present details of Noma’s cuisine (Noma:Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine) and service (A Work in Progress).


In 2012, Danish restaurants created 5000 new jobs. The entire restaurant sector has had an 18% increase in turnover since 2008 … Copenhagen is among the fastest growing tourism-cities in the world.
Anne Marie Barsøe quoted Francis Cardeneau (one of the fathers of the Nordic gastronomic revolution and the first to receive two Michelin stars in the Nordic region) in her review of Noma:

He believes there is no way of understating the importance of Noma, both as an international inspiration, and as a cultural phenomenon. “The fact that Noma is keeping a top level, and have done so for so long, has made the restaurant so much more than an award winning restaurant: They shape everyone’s idea of food and nature. I can see the impact they have on a whole international generation rethinking the relationship between food and nature”.

Her review concludes with this Francis Cardeneuu quote:

You can see the impact of the Nordic breakthrough in gastronomy in every supermarket now. Noma will keep changing everything.

Shared Tables

It is very difficult to secure a reservation at Noma. In 2012 there were 1204 potential customers waiting for a place (compared to 14 three years previously) for dinner each evening.
The Restaurant’s web site has very clear guidelines about how to book online.
In 2014 Noma started to offer a shared table for lunch and dinner. Lau Richter described these arrangements which included this advice:

Spots on the shared table are available up to one month in advance of the reservation date. This is different from our regular tables, which usually must be booked three months in advance. This, we hope, will allow those who cannot make plans so far in advance to join us more easily.

Lau added:
We have booked several shared tables over the past few months, and it has worked very nicely. More guests have been able to join us, and it has been a pleasure to see diners from all over the world enjoy the experience together.

Shared Practice and Professional Flourishing

The Noma web site has a page devoted to alumni. It includes the following introduction:

Each year we see a number of new people; they are young, fresh-faced, filled with passion and an unbridled sense of curiosity that brings them to our restaurant, eager for a new experience. Here they work alongside our kitchen’s regular staff of twenty-four as part of a three month internship – they get a glimpse into our way of life and we give them an opportunity to become an integral part of our restaurants’ daily operations; the foraging, harvesting from our farms, and the opportunity to see ingredients through to the guests. They participate in creating dishes during our Saturday Night Projects, attend lectures by the Nordic Food Lab and hopefully a seed is planted for understanding seasonality. These dear interns, or stagiers as they are called in the industry nomenclature, are a fundamental part of our trade, and we would certainly not be where we are today without this group of eager students and young chefs volunteering their time.


I think there are so many parts of the Noma story that resonate with any professional endeavour that seeks to transform practice.
Noma has a clear philosophy that is embedded in practice by René and his legion of chefs.
I like the idea that this practice is shared openly with those who come to work at Noma and that these alumni become part of the transformation process. I sense that the links between a charismatic chef and stagiers have profound implications for transformation.
I like too that Noma has given impetus to Copenhagen and to primary production in Denmark.
The Restaurant opened a decade ago. In 2011, René established the MAD symposium “that aims to build a community of cooks, purveyors, and thinkers with an appetite for knowledge and a desire to improve the restaurant trade”.
In 2015 all the staff are going to Japan. René has written about this opportunity:

we’ll leave our ingredients at home. Rather we’ll bring our mindset and sensibilities to the best of pristine winter produce from all over Japan. The whole staff is exhilarated, like myself, by this opportunity and we believe that the wealth of knowledge from the journey will enrich our own restaurant and cooking when we return to Copenhagen.

I wonder if our performance analysis community can learn from this willingness to share and explore different cultural contexts.
I do hope you enjoy reading about Noma and the insights this may give to our own practice and development.

Photo Credits

Noma Exterior (Sarah Ackerman, CC BY 2.0)
Noma Lab (Nick Webb, CC BY 2.0)
Restaurant Noma (CycloneBill, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Copenhagen: Noma (Tomislav Medak, CC BY 2.0)
The Noma Crew (Nick Webb, CC BY 2.0)
Restaurant Noma: Hvide asparges med pocheret æggeblomme og skovmærkesauce (CycloneBill, CC BY-SA 2.0)



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