Within today’s hyperconnected haute-cuisine universe, it’s not uncommon for a young cook—who, in the past, might have spent half a decade toiling in one kitchen—to trot around the globe staging in the world’s most progressive kitchens, racking up resume points (El Bulli, the Fat Duck, Mugaritz, et al) before launching an avant-garde corn dog truck. Case in point: Even Rick Ross’ personal chef has done stints at Noma and wd~50. Mind-blowing.
With so many up-and-comers using these gilded names for bragging rights, and media quick to label someone an “alum” without looking at what they actually did at a restaurant, the game is getting a bit confusing. After all, there’s a big difference between serving two years as a chef-de-partie and spending three months as an intern who chops onions for eight hours a day.
Even Rick Ross’ personal chef has done stints at Noma and wd~50.
With this in mind, it was interesting to see that Noma—Rene Redzepi’s renowned Copenhagen restaurant—recently put up a blog post entitled “Noma Alumni,” which details former employees who have gone on to take other gigs, or launch their own projects, in kitchens around the world. Notice that while the list is lengthy, it is nowhere near as long as the list of names you’ve seen name-checked as “Noma alum” in newspapers and magazines.
The post begins by extolling the virtues of the restaurant internship program, noting that “René was himself a stagiere around the world before opening noma. It is a part of sharing ideas and knowledge that is quite special in our trade.” But it goes on to draw a distinction between “former stagiere” and “alum”: “Amidst this cycle of interns that flow in and out of the restaurant every few months, we also say goodbye to members of our staff…. These are people that have dedicated a significant amount of time (sometimes as much as nine years) to our restaurant. It is also a tribute to a small group of people that have made a special impact here.”
This real-deal list includes the likes of Benjamin Greeno, a former Noma sous chef now installed as head chef at Momofuku Seibo in Sydney, and Matt Orlando and Julie Orlando, who opened Amass together in Copenhagen. But what about bonafide Noma alum working in the U.S.? Here you go:
• Blaine Wetzel: former chef-de-partie at noma; head chef and partner at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Washington
• Daniel Burns: former pastry chef at noma; opened Tørst, a beer bar in Brooklyn in March 2013, which will be followed by the opening of a restaurant, Luksus in May 2013
• Mads Refslund: original co-founder of noma; consulting head chef of ACME in New York City
• Milton Abel: former sous chef in pastry at noma; head pastry chef at The French Laundry in California