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January 21, 2016
Habits

Adelaide son heads front-of-house for world’s best pop-up restaurant

They sold out their total 5,500 reservations in two minutes.

  • Words and pictures: Joshua Fanning

Noma is more important than the headline of this story. It’s more interesting, more sincere and more challenging.

However, the pioneer of Nordic cuisine and, officially, world’s best restaurant is also entirely accessible. And, as if to prove this point, head chef and founder René Redzepi and his 80-strong team have picked up their lives and bags of knives and moved their entire operation from the waterfront of Christianshavn in Copenhagen to the waterfront of Barangaroo in Sydney.

If you were lucky enough to log onto the Noma website back in October last year and make a reservation, it’s quite likely that the first person you’ll meet at Noma is James Spreadbury.

James grew up in Belair, in the Adelaide foot hills. He ran the restaurant at Penny’s Hill in McLaren Vale. He then went to Noma, where he’s spent the last eight years – a good portion managing the front-of-house side of René’s business.

“For us, it’s so important that we don’t make [Noma] political but deep down, underlying part of the reason is also because of this urge to try and understand what’s happened in Australia.”

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“I came over [to Australia] earlier [than the rest of the team] because I had a lot of work to do,” says James in his typically casual manner. We asked what sort of work that was, imagining James inspecting crates of material the restaurant had shipped over from Denmark.

“No, more like, ‘okay — we need a point of sale system, who’s thought of that? OK no one? Off you go then mate’.”

The restaurant opens this Tuesday, January 26th and is well and truly beyond solving the point of sale problem.

Each detail has been carefully considered. The crockery, the cutlery, glassware and furniture have been selected to gently nudge diners towards the question: what is Australian cuisine?

James has fun with us, he acknowledges the great variety and modern approach at the heart of Australian food culture but, again, there’s something deeper to it.

Noma is interested in ideas, not just food and not just ingredients.

Over a beer at Pink Moon Saloon, James talks to us about the full breadth of life; of becoming a father, the joy of family, new business projects with friends and regarding your own country from afar. That last point is one James and the other Australian staff at Noma get stuck on.

“For us, it’s so important that we don’t make [Noma] political but deep down, underlying part of the reason is also because of this urge to try and understand what’s happened in Australia,” says James.

CityMag suggests that Australia’s current status anxiety: both its cultural cringe and xenophobia, stem from the nation’s inability to embrace or reconcile with our Indigenous heritage.

Nodding, James says, “René put it really well, ‘what is it we want to do? We can’t just go down there and cook some food, pack up and leave.’ And I guess, we wanted to look at the alternative — what if the Europeans and the Indigenous people of the land lived in complete harmony from the very, very beginning — what would a restaurant look like today?

“I mean really. The look of it, the feel of it, the taste of it,” says James, his eyes gleaming with a knowing naiveté; the sort of childish wonder necessary for such a preposterous proposition in the Western world.

Preposterous, maybe, but not impossible.

Not for a restaurant helmed by one of the world’s most influential men. Not for a team willing to travel to the direct opposite side of the globe, uprooting their lives and families in the process. Not for such a simple question.

Regardless — at Noma in Barangaroo — the answer is sure to be delicious.

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