A little while ago, the hospitality industry received news that was quite surprising. To acquaint you with the topic at hand, chef Rene Redzepi, the head chef and co-founder of the three-Michelin star, fine-dining restaurant Noma announced that the restaurant will be closing its doors in the winter of 2024, in order to focus on a food laboratory to further experiment and explore the different flavours of the world as well as further add to the gourmet range of products under the label of Noma Project. This instance is actually very similar to a piece of news that hits a little close to our own home. Chef Prateek Sadhu, the former executive chef at Masque, Mumbai, also decided to tread down a similar path, to start a culinary laboratory, 4 Seats Only, of his own amidst the hills in Kasauli.
Despite these events, what remains is the question, why or rather what could have prompted such a decision? Noma after all is world renowned. Chef Redzepi made sure to answer this as well. He stated that the working environment, culture and the very module that fine-dining restaurants are based on are simply unsustainable. "Financially and emotionally, as an employer and as a human being, it just doesn't work. "We have to completely rethink the industry. This is simply too hard, and we have to work in a different way," said chef Rene, in his conversation with New York Times.
While the restaurant is set to shut in the winter of 2024, Noma will return as a giant testing kitchen in 2025. 'Serving guests will always be a part of who we are, but being a restaurant will no longer define us. From 2025, our restaurant will no longer exist in its current form. Instead, we will pop up in different parts of the world – including Copenhagen – while focusing more time on innovation and product development,' was mentioned in a statement published by Noma on their website. This move did really get us thinking about the working ethics and the culture that helps sustain a fine-dining restaurant. While we are off to having a wonderful time, we are not entirely privy to all the hardwork and effort put in behind-the-scenes.
In our conversation with Gauri Devidayal, co-founder of Food Matters India with a number of ventures like The Table, Mag Street Cafe, Mag Street Kitchen, Miss T Delivery and more, under her wing, she mentioned, 'Covid enlightened many people in the hospitality industry about the cost benefit of the time they were investing versus the returns they were getting, whether monetary or in terms of mental satisfaction. This coupled with high inflation over the last twelve months exacerbated by a global war, has indeed put a lot of pressure on businesses. I don't believe that reviewing working conditions of those in hospitality should be confined to fine-dining. It needs to happen across the board and beyond. Perhaps it is time to address the great disparity between effort and reward.'
It's true that difficult times have shed light on the strenuous aspects of life and naturally the survival of the fittest rule comes into play no matter the situation. But in agreement with Devidayal, a review of the working environment and culture needs to happen across industries, not just the fine-dining space. She also mentioned, 'I don't want to comment on Noma specifically, although I am surprised to see a restaurant plan two years ahead. In my opinion, if I can survive two years, why close, and if I can't then how, or more importantly, why do I intend to stretch it out for another two years?'
While in due time we will be acquainted with more aspects and angles to this journey that chef Redzepi has embarked upon, what remains a mystery still is the fact that how can the labour-intensive hospitality industry plan on evolving to sustain itself and its employees? What does the near, or far, future hold for this industry? And more importantly, if it does not evolve with the changing times, what is fated to become of this space?
Natasha Kittur is an aspiring writer. Her love for anything with cheese and spice is profound, but a white sauce pasta always tops her list. In her free time you will catch her reading or watching crime books and shows or go on and on about psychological experiments and theories. She aims to write a book in the fictional genre someday.