Noma! June 29th, 2012. I won’t say who was in the dining room, but at one point Massimo and Ferran were standing in the kitchen together. The energy in the kitchen was exploding. Everyone was buzzing, especially because we knew that in 16 hours, we were going to be in a field, drinking beers and grilling with these guys.
The last three years have been crazy in the most positive way, but just within the last year, it has been not only an amazing time for my career, but also for my life. It wasn’t just the most epic dinner service of my life, but also everything that came after it. Earlier in the year, Rene Redzepi, Peter Kreiner and I made the decision to do a 10-day Noma pop-up at Claridges Hotel during the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Five months of preparation went into making the pop-up a reality. Everything from sourcing products (where do you find 30 kilos of sheep sorrel?!), re-organizing an existing kitchen to our specifications, and cooking for fives times the amount of guests than we were used to, took everything that I had as a leader and as a chef.
The Claridges event was a big step forward for me. It was really a stepping-stone to prepare for what was to become the biggest challenge of my career: Opening my own restaurant.
I had always said that I was going to take a year to plan my own restaurant. But things never turn out the way that you planned. While I had spoken to Rene in January of 2012 about leaving at the end of the year, but by October, the opportunity to open my own place presented itself and a year was compressed into 7 months.
But was I comfortable about opening my own place? I think that you really need to feel it when you make the decision to do your own thing. When I worked for Francis Perrot at Fairbanks Ranch in San Diego, we would often talk about his past and where his career had taken him. He gave me a piece of advice that still rings in my ears and was the reason I waited until now to pursue my own thing: Wait until you have a strong foundation before you take a head chef position-it’s worth the wait.
I have been involved with numerous restaurant openings over the years. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect and what to look out for. I can tell you right now that no matter how many restaurants you open up for other people, as soon as it’s your own, it’s different on every level. For example, talks started in October with the landlords of our space in Refshaleøen. All parties agreed that it should take about one-and-a-half months to settle the lease. It took five months. Our kitchen budget. We thought it would have adequate ventilation and a working grease trap. Wrong. Out went 500,000 Danish Kroner. Time to rework the budget.
The light at the end of the tunnel is quite dim.