At the moment, few restaurants are more famous than Noma in Copenhagen. It has garnered two Michelin stars and been named the world’s best restaurant for two years running, in the annual awards sponsored by San Pellegrino. Noma’s kitchen is run by Rene Redzepi, a revolutionary young chef who has dedicated himself to formulating a new Nordic cuisine.
Tables at Noma are hard to come by. Diners must reserve months in advance, and plan on spending close to $1000 for dinner for two with wine. For that price, they receive a complex and ever-changing menu comprised of 20 small courses.
Now, it appears, they also get norovirus.
Between February 16th and 20th, 67 of the 78 customers who dined at Noma contracted the virus. The restaurant was reportedly slow to react to customer complaints, and the Danish food authority (their equivalent of the Health Department) was called in. They found that the restaurant had failed to disinfect the kitchen properly before the virus spread, and think that the problem may have been created by infected staff members handling food. They also discovered that there was no hot water in the taps used by kitchen staff to wash their hands. The restaurant has received a warning, and must pay for a follow-up inspection.
The problems at Noma recalled a similar situation in 2009 at The Fat Duck in England. Owned and operated by Heston Blumenthal, another revolutionary young chef, The Fat Duck is one of three restaurants in the U.K. to hold the ultimate accolade of three Michelin stars. In that case, nearly 600 diners were sickened by norovirus, and the restaurant was closed by health authorities for close to three weeks. In the end, the culprits were found to be contaminated oysters and poor hygiene.
Against the backdrop of a nonstop culture of celebrity cooking and food, it’s disheartening to realize that you can pay $1000 to get just as sick as you can from eating at your neighborhood greasy spoon. Maybe it’s time to go back to basics. In that spirit, and as someone who spent several decades in the restaurant business, I have some advice for the world’s top young chefs: Wash your hands.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to iconicspirits.net.