It was a gesture that spoke a thousand words. Instead of taking to the podium like he’s done twice before, chef Rene Redzepi, owner of the best restaurant in the world, relinquished the spotlight and passed the mic over to his dishwasher who spoke on Noma’s behalf.
All eyes were on Ali Sonko at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in London Monday night, after Noma was named the best restaurant in the world for the third year in a row. As Sonko thanked the academy, the celebrity chef -- a young Danish man who has been called a game-changer in the industry -- stood back with the rest of his team, shouting out words of encouragement to the restaurant’s nervous head dishwasher.
“I’m so happy, I say thank you for all of us,” said Sonko in broken but earnest English over the din of excited hooting and hollering from the rest of staff.
There is a back story to all of this. In 2010, when Noma topped the list for the first time, staff members donned T-shirts emblazoned with Sonko’s face in his honor after he had been barred from entering the UK for visa issues and was unable to attend.
The gestures -- both then and Monday night -- speak volumes about the kind of restaurant Redzepi runs and the sense of teamwork that prevails over the kitchen brigade.
In a post-ceremony interview with William Drew, editor of Restaurant magazine which hosts the event, Redzepi spoke in ‘We’s’ and very few ‘I’s,’ saying that while the team doesn’t work for accolades, the attention heaped on the restaurant has helped shine the spotlight on what used to be an overlooked part of the world.
“It’s magical for our region, the momentum that we have,” he said. “This helps create confidence to a generation of cooks, to see that the big world is actually looking at this small country, this small corner of Copenhagen.”
Redzepi is widely cited for birthing New Nordic cuisine, popularizing the foraging movement and using hyper-local ingredients like wild plants and herbs from the Danish countryside. Dishes at Noma have also revived the traditions of Scandinavian cooking and ingredients like Icelandic skyr curd, halibut, Greenland musk ox and berries.
Meanwhile, like the results of the 50 Best Restaurants -- Noma, El Celler de Can Roca, and Mugaritz, both of Spain were also the top three restaurants last year -- the ceremony itself was likewise largely uneventful.
Perhaps the only comic relief was when French chef Iñaki Aizpitarte of Le Chateaubriand in Paris donned Jamie Oliver masks when his name was called out. Le Chateaubriand fell from the ninth spot last year to 15th spot this year.
In all, 47 of the 50 restaurants were represented at the awards this year. Conspicuously absent in London was a contingent of French chefs or representatives from Michelin-starred restaurants like Bras, which landed the No. 47 spot, Pierre Gagnaire, which landed the 17th position, and L'Atelier Saint-Germain de Joel Robuchon, in the 12th spot.
For the full results, visit http://www.theworlds50best.com.