Having spent almost the entire long weekend drooling while watching the sumptuous Netflix documentary series Chef's Table, there was no finer after-dinner mint than watching Noma: My Perfect Storm on a chilly afternoon. What is better than sitting down with some takeaway while watching the masters of world cuisine smear puree on a plate, drizzle olive oil suggestively and delicately add final sprigs of parsley?
Noma: My Perfect Storm fits this menu, but provides a slightly different flavour. Documenting the swift rise of head chef Rene Redzepi's Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, the film captures the lightning in a bottle that comes from seeing genius and hard work finally pay off - only to precariously teeter at the unforgiving peak of its field.
We meet head chef Redzepi in snowy Copenhagen as he tries to win Restaurant magazine's Best Restaurant in the World title for the fourth time. Having climbed from being an unknown, hole-in-the-wall, we are introduced to a high-stakes world. You can feel the tension seeping through as Redzepi storms the kitchen and yells about thyme for an inordinate amount of time.
Noma is primarily a portrait of a man at the top of his game, carrying the weight of the world's expectations on his shoulders. As with most restaurateur portraits, it's full of amazing insights into what drives people to be the best, keeps them going and sees them fail. Redzepi is far from perfect, and his anti-establishment, anti-hero character is a complex and refreshing change to the traditional celebrity chef caricatures (Jamie Oliver is good, Gordon Ramsay is bad).
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But he is not without shades of Hell's Kitchen. At times, his overly-cool, bicycle-riding veneer shatters to reveal moments of rage and a hissy fit over a too-sweet cocktail. Ironically, these feel like the most real moments of the polished documentary, the camera shaking to catch up as his angry voice barks and swears.
In hushed voices, his colleagues feature as talking heads to reveal their inner angst away from the kitchen and what feels like enough stress to warrant a two-year holiday. It's as much about the social dynamics as the flavour dynamics.
Despite the beautiful dishes that first hook in foodie audiences like a fish to a lure, Noma isn't as packed with dish details as you might think.
Where documentaries like Chef's Table spend time traipsing the topography of a deconstructed lemon meringue pie, Noma prefers to leave you hanging.
There's a lot of talk of creating the cuisine, but not a lot of time spent on the dishes. Sure, there are breath-taking shots of a splash of foam, a piece of moss and a live ant on a plate - but you're often left with more questions than answers. Why eat an ant? Is the foam actually shaving gel? Is any of this edible?
The documentary is crafted much like the intricate dishes of Noma. It takes pains over every detail of restaurant life, at times sacrificing what whets our appetites in the first place: the food. Combining fly-on-the-wall observations, talking heads and artistic cutaways, there is enough for everyone's tastes. I just won't order the plate of ants from Noma until somebody tells me what's in it.