An unbalanced, uninspired food doc that overthinks a simple story.
Noma: My Perfect Storm
For a documentary about the man behind one of the best, most influential restaurants on our planet, Noma: My Perfect Storm is terribly uninspired. It’s about René Redzepi and his amazing Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, the epicenter for Nordic cuisine that has topped the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list four times since 2009. Chef René and his team are relentlessly focused, innovative and dedicated, nearly to a fault, and yet Pierre Deschamps documentary is the complete opposite: rudderless, overwrought and unoriginal.
The focus is squarely on chef Redzepi, his food philosophies, ego, work ethic and accomplishments. It’s a solid underdog story. Redzepi’s vision for Noma was to introduce the world to the first purely Scandanavian restaurant, sourcing ingredients from local farmers and crafting region-specific dishes you’ll only find in their little corner of the world. The irony here is that this Nordic culinary revolutionary is actually an immigrant from Macedonia who regularly faced discrimination for his Muslim background on his journey to the top. The adversity molded Redzepi into a bit of a rebel, a proud outsider who exercises his passion on his terms and cares little what his peers and critics think of him.
The story’s drama comes from a February 2013 norovirus outbreak that affected over 60 of Noma’s patrons, a botch that arguably lost them their top spot on the Best Restaurants list that year. A year later, still reeling from their prior defeat (though they won’t admit it), the Noma team attends the awards ceremony again. Redzepi goes on bitterly about how the ceremony is all arbitrary bullshit anyway, but fast forward a few minutes and he’s a ball of giddy excitement as it’s announced that Noma’s retaken the top spot. It’s intriguing to watch his psychological ups and downs, but the film is never piercing or incisive enough to explore that side of his psyche in a way that’s challenging or revealing.
The most upsetting thing about this food doc is that it doesn’t seem to share the same passion for food as its subject. The amazing plates Redzepi and his team design and debate over so meticulously aren’t showcased often or artfully enough, and this gets very frustrating, very fast. When we do see a close-up of one of Noma’s marvelous plates, it’s almost always out of context, with no insight provided into the conceptualization of or inspiration behind the glistening food in front of our eyes. Deschamps doesn’t seem concerned with weaving together food photography and narrative in a meaningful, coherent way, and that hurts the film bad.
Deschamps is so interested Redzepi’s temperament in the kitchen (one scene sees him berating his cooks for confusing lemon thyme with thyme-thyme) that there isn’t much room left for the film to revel in the beauty of the world-renowned chef’s delectable dishes. Periodically, the Noma crew will have these food jam sessions where the cooks will freestyle some brand new dishes and present them to the rest of the team for evaluation; if the dish is good enough, it may eventually end up on the menu in some form. It’s nice to see Redzepi interacting with his team in such a loose, casual, positive environment, complimenting his cooks on their “fucking amazing” creations. But we can’t get a good look at the food! I found myself squinting to catch a glimpse of the experimental dishes the young cooks worked so hard on, but Deschamps never lets us get in close.
It’s easy to get onboard with a character examination about Redzepi—he’s a fascinating guy with a chip on his shoulder and a truly great mind for cuisine. But Noma: My Perfect Storm doesn’t reflect in its form chef Redzepi’s obsession with food, which in this case turns out to be a fatal flaw. The film is too fixated on what’s in his head to truly appreciate what he’s making with his hands.