Barely three months ago, René Redzepi seemed to be at the pinnacle of the universe. His Copenhagen eatery, Noma, had just been anointed the “world’s best restaurant,” an amazing achievement for the 33 year-old chef. Now, it seems that he needs a rest.
“You run out of steam,” said Redzepi, who apparently slept through the Hard Work and Perseverance course in culinary school. His accolade came from the annual San Pellegrino Restaurant Awards—hardly the Michelin Guide or Gault-Millau—but to achieve it, Redzepi ousted his former mentor, Ferran Adria, from the top slot. He has yet to announce his future plans.
To be fair, there is a tremendous amount of pressure at the top of every profession. You become a target to those who are clawing their way up, and consumers tend to approach everything you do with stratospheric expectations. Just look at Adria, who also intends to take a sabbatical. If you’ve seen pictures of him lately, he seems totally and completely exhausted. However, given that his creative achievements at El Bulli over the past 15 years are roughly equal in importance to everything that has transpired since men and women began roasting animals over an open fire, perhaps he’s entitled.
Years ago—before the Food Channel, before the public relations industry hit critical mass—chefs began their apprenticeship at age 12 or 13 and worked until they dropped. There were no cooking demos, no reality TV shows. Chefs had one restaurant, rather than 18 or 27, and were grateful for the opportunity. They did not feel, as Redzepi does, that success hampered their creativity in any way, because success for them meant spending more time in the kitchen.
After taking some time off, Ferran Adria plans on converting El Bulli into a cooking school. Will Redzepi do the same? If so, he’d better bring someone in to teach the course on Hard Work and Perseverance.