Twenty-two different nationalities work the floor at Noma. Being named the world’s number one restaurant four out of the past six years has given the Danish outfit a certain allure for staff and customers alike.
James Spreadbury is one of the many people drawn in by its reputation. Though he grew up in Adelaide, he’s now based in Copenhagen and works as the restaurant’s manager. He helped oversee its five-week pop-up in Tokyo at the start of 2015.
With Noma repeating the concept at Barangaroo in Sydney for 10 weeks this January, we asked Spreadbury for his thoughts on the endeavour.
Broadsheet: How did you come to work at Noma?
James Spreadbury: I’ve been working here for seven years now. I started in the industry when I was about 15. I was working around a little bit and just got to a point where I wanted to have the adventure of going to Europe. I wanted to expand my experience and focus more on this as a career, and see where I could take it.
There were a lot of restaurants throughout Europe that really excited me and I followed them. Then I came across Noma. It just sounded like such an interesting place, not only from what was happening in the kitchen, but the service side, too. I’d heard the style of service was quite different for the high end; it was a more relaxed style. I was too scared to apply, because I was afraid that if I got a negative response I wouldn’t go. So I quit my job, packed everything up and moved to Copenhagen and knocked on the door.
BS: What’s kept you there?
JS: I was never sure how long I planned to stay, but it’s an amazing place. The culture that’s been built here within the team is pretty special. It’s very close-knit environment. It’s always advancing and it’s always developing, so it’s very difficult to think of moving on. I definitely miss Australia, but at the same time, there’s always this huge drive to do the best that we can. It’s hard to leave that.
BS: How was the pop-up in Tokyo at the start of 2015?
JS: It was a completely incredible experience. As I said, it’s very team-driven here. To do something like that where you pick up an entire staff and move it to another culture to create something special, it really brings you together. You get to learn a lot about each other. You get to learn a lot about yourself, and what you’re capable of.
The work we put into making that happen was incredible. It was probably a year of work and organisation to actually make it happen – which was essentially for a five-week period. We already had this very special connection, but that just strengthened it. It was almost like going on a footy trip with your team. There are a lot of funny stories and things that happened, but we all came together and made it work.
Noma is a restaurant that’s always alive with energy and electricity. When we returned to Copenhagen, it strengthened that even more. It was like the fire had been stoked.
BS: At the same time, Tokyo must have been exhausting?
JS: Yeah. It took a lot out of us. It wasn’t just the physical work, but also the emotional impact. It’s a positive impact, but you’re taking a lot in, you’re learning a lot, you’re meeting heaps of new friends and experiencing a new culture.
We felt like we could have stayed on and worked for longer and kept enjoying it. But on the other side, it was great to finish it, sit back and reflect. We all took a small break afterwards. By the time we got back together in Copenhagen, everyone was happy and excited to be back.
BS: When did you first hear about the pop-up in Sydney?
JS: We were still in Tokyo when we decided this was something we wanted to do again. Me being from Australia, I think René [Redzepi, Noma’s owner and head chef] had joked about it one time and I said, “That’d be amazing.” But it was towards the end of our service period there that we had a conversation and asked, “Could we do this again?” Everyone said, “Yes, definitely”. So officially, we caught wind of it while we were in Tokyo. The amazing thing about René is that he is always looking forward and into the future. You’ve always got this feeling that he’s imagining and envisioning something for the team and for the restaurant. You’re never quite sure how far ahead he’s actually been thinking of certain things.
BS: What sort of preparations did you have to make logistically?
JS: Doing this in Tokyo was one thing. It’s an extremely different culture in Japan and there was the issue of the language barrier. In saying that, the people we were lucky to work with were incredible. In Australia, it’s easier in some ways, because the language barrier isn’t there, and it’s not as far away culturally. But logistically it takes a lot of research and development. We have an R&D kitchen here. Those guys are the ones that really took the lead in terms of what’s happening in the kitchen. They went to Australia three times in 2015 for initial research trips.
Of course it’s quite well-known now that René and the guys were down there for three weeks not long ago, travelling around to all different parts of the country and meeting with a lot of different suppliers and people that know the land.
They went to certain places to look for specific native ingredients. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of travel, and it’s a lot to take in.
BS: What did you tell the team about Australia before they came out?
JS: We’ve been searching for different knowledge and history on the indigenous landscapes and people. That’s a work in progress, which we think is extremely important to this whole process. Even me, coming from Australia, there’s so many ingredients that I’m not aware of and have never tried. There’s a lot to learn. It’s such an ancient place.
There are also a lot of people that haven’t been to Australia before. So it’s just sharing a little bit about the lifestyle and how great it is. People are really looking forward to it. Being in a place that’s relaxed, where the weather and the lifestyle are good, we’re going to have a really great time together. That’s very much the essence of why we want to do it. That’s one of the reasons we chose Australia.
Noma will pop-up at Barangaroo from January 26 until April 2, 2016. All tables are now booked but you can join the waitlist..
This story was updated on January 29.