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Taking Noma's Nordic philosophy to Tokyo
RENÉ Redzepi doesn't do simple. The creative force behind Noma, a game-changing Copenhagen restaurant founded on the principle of connecting to the seasons through foraging, is on a long-term mission to challenge himself and his team, reinventing his restaurant whenever and wherever possible. Not for him a life of cameo appearances as a visiting chef, reproducing dishes from the mothership's menu.
That's why Redzepi announced last year that Noma would close at the end of this month and reopen in late 2017, at another location in radically different form as an urban farm.
And that's why in early 2015 he leapt at the opportunity to open a full-blown Noma pop-up in Tokyo - with filmmaker Maurice Dekkers documenting the whole thing.
Ants on a Shrimp features very little of Noma Tokyo's 14-course menu. Instead, it's a slick behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of transplanting the Noma experience. It also provides some insight into the mind of the man for whom the term "New Nordic Cuisine" was coined.
Redzepi gives the impression that Noma Tokyo was one of those "it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time" things, but it seems more likely that it was a conscious decision to see if the Noma philosophy could be applied in a different context.
Subsequent six-week pop-ups, in Sydney earlier this year and one scheduled for Mexico's Yucatan peninsula in April-May 2017, would indicate that the experiment was worth the effort.
Running a restaurant is a daily grind and while working in a different culture and using different ingredients is intimidating enough, it can also be fun.
"A normal person doesn't understand what we are doing," says one of the chefs on the advance team that arrives a month before the Tokyo opening. The chefs - pale, unshaven and zombie-like from fatigue and lack of sleep - have some reservations about the challenges that lie ahead, but they never back down.
By the time Redzepi comes to town, his team has a first draft of potential dishes for him to vet, and it takes plenty to meet his exacting standards. "Our job is to fail every day, over and over," says one chef.
Redzepi makes it a point to discard tried-and-tested Noma dishes, insisting instead on working outside the comfort zone. This involves exploring local markets, visiting farms and going deep into mist-shrouded forests and mountains in search of ingredients - and inspiration. Animals were killed in the making of this film.
What will Noma in Japan be like? "I don't know yet," says Redzepi, just weeks before the pop-up opens. "We take our vision, our aesthetic and freefall into a new culture and see what comes out of it."
Many ingredients are new and exotic, but these are no ordinary neophytes. The goal is always the same - to deliver the best, all the time. Noma Tokyo will serve 3,000 diners over a five-week period. There are 58,000 names on the waiting list.
The Noma aesthetic emphasises the need for balance, to be more than just ingredients on a plate. It's an intense, intricate dance, and Redzepi leads the way, making sense of the final menu, including yes, ants on a shrimp. It's weird and wonderful but in the end, the next service is the only thing that matters.