COPENHAGEN, DENMARK Approaching Noma, perhaps the world's most famous restaurant, one can't help feel the sort of trepidation that comes with any trip to a high-end dining experience. Fancy restaurants are by their nature intimidating places expensive, filled with wealthy, successful people, and often, snooty staff.
Noma, a restaurant that takes immense pride in defying almost every convention in the book, doesn't fit that stereotype, and makes its point from the very beginning.
Rather than a greeting from an aloof maitre'd with a waxed mustache and immaculate hair, guests' first contact at the restaurant is with a 63-year-old Gambian immigrant called Ali Sonko and his infectious smile.
Sonko, a permanent fixture at Noma since it opened almost 15 years ago, started as a dishwasher at the restaurant, and having worked his way through the ranks, now owns a 10% stake in the business.
Previously voted the best restaurant in the world four times in the well-respected, but often controversial World's 50 Best list, Noma was named the world's second best at the 2019 awards.
Its name is portmanteau of the word's "Nordisk," meaning "Nordic," and "mad," the Danish word for food. The restaurant's name perfectly defines its ambitions.
Noma and its founder Rene Redzepi have built a culinary dynasty by focusing solely on ingredients from the Scandinavian region, shunning things like olive oil, and focusing instead on foraged ingredients from near the restaurant.
Famous dishes to appear on the restaurant's menu over the years include dried moss, ants, and more recently mold.
Located in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, it has a fair claim to be the most influential place of gastronomy in the world. Alumni are spread all over the world, and have taken the restaurant's philosophy of hyperlocalism with them.
Any time you eat an edible flower at a local bistro, or hear about the house churned butter at that trendy new spot downtown, Noma has probably had at least some influence.
I've been lucky enough to visit Noma twice, once in November 2011, and more recently in late July. Here's what it was like on my most recent visit.
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