Simon Martin – Chef in Noma Restaurant
Noma is a two-Michelin-star restaurant run by chef René Redzepi in Copenhagen, Denmark. We met Simon Martin for an interview. He is working as a chef in the Noma restaurant. Read here.
What drove you to become a chef?
It was actually sort of an accident: I was a motocross racer professionally from the age of 12 until 17, when I suffered an injury that wouldn’t let me perform at my best anymore. I decided to stop for that reason. I was a little depressed and didn’t really know what to do with myself, until my father saw me watching a cooking programme on TV and called up the Chester Grosvenor, a hotel with one Michelin star, to ask if his son could get an apprenticeship in the kitchen.
After a brief interview they said yes. I went along with it because I always do what my dad tells me! I can’t say that I felt very passionate about the job immediately, it took a couple of years and for me, a love of the kitchen came before a love of food.
Where did you work before you started your job at NOMA Restaurant?
Well, as mentioned I started at a place called the Chester Grosvenor working under Simon Radley, then spent two years at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. From there I moved to Australia to work in a restaurant called Amusé, and another called Opus.
When I came back to England I went to the Lake District, where I spent two years at Gilpin Lodge. I then started doing consultancy before realizing that I had to expand my knowledge, and went to Noma.
Noma Restaurant – one of the most famous
Noma is one of the most famous restaurants in the world. How did you get the job there?
I applied for an internship and was lucky enough to be chosen for a spot. I did the required three months and was asked on my last day as an intern to stay on full-time. We almost exclusively hire through internships as it allows us and them to really get an insight into people’s character, work ethic, commitment and consistency over the course of three months, as opposed to being on a trial for a day or a week – where anyone can put on a brave face.
Noma is a very different restaurant to work in and during an internship here you’ll be pushed to the limit. It’s very difficult to hide who you really are in those circumstances, which allows us to select candidates for employment with a lot of confidence.
What was your first job at Noma and what is your current job?
My first job after being employed was outside on the BBQ section, where we would do the majority of the cooking for the service, then I moved onto the hot section and in Mexico I was in charge of the oyster taco serving.
As a chef in the Noma restaurant team, do you have room for your own creativity/specialization? If so: What are your specialities?
I think that performing any given task and applying expert craftmanship to form an excellent product requires a lot of creativity when you look at how many minor details can change its outcome, which is something we practise every day.
On a much larger creative scale we have Saturday Night Projects, where a chef from each section will come up with a serving which can be whatever you want, even if it’s ‘just to see what would happen’ if, say, you cooked a potato in zinc, or whatever it may be. After presenting a project to the whole team, you get feedback from the test kitchen and René, which is obviously invaluable.
Noma Restaurant – a little bit pressure
Does working in such a famous restaurant put you under any pressure?
The short answer is yes, but for many reasons other than just that the restaurant is well known. You have to consider the fact that people have a great deal of expectation, people travel from all over the world just to eat at Noma and this is one of the things that drives us to step up to the mark every day, regardless of how you’re feeling or what’s going on in your life. Every one of us genuinely wants to provide an experience that is incomparable, we don’t want to let anyone down but at the same time we’re confident that everything we do will deliver that experience.
We are constantly striving to be better people as well as better cooks. There is no end point in progression and we find solace in the idea that, if guests are happy with their time with us today, then if we make ourselves even better for tomorrow the chances are those guests will be happy too.
The quality of the food in Denmark is great: Do you think it is part of the success?
I think that quality products can be found everywhere, every country has something that grows or can be reared well, it’s just a case of finding that product and being able to bring it to your restaurant consistently.
Nordic cuisine is simple, honest and directly linked to the local nature: With the ‘boom’ in Nordic cuisine it’s finding its way into lots of restaurants all over the world. However, isn’t it hard to ‘copy’ it in other regions of the world without the local ingredients?
I don’t think it’s hard, but it’s absolutely less effective. Chefs are waking up to the fact that products are better when you reduce the travel time it takes for them to get to your restaurant and when they’re in season and grown properly.
That being said, produce is mainly about climate, so who’s to say we couldn’t replicate Nordic cuisine in a place like Scotland? The seasons would differ slightly but the produce would be very similar. Of course, though, if you’re a restaurant in Mexico and you’re trying to cook a menu based on a cold climate environment then yes, you’re going to struggle to do it well. In my opinion there’s beauty in nature everywhere and you should be proud to cook what’s around you, whatever it may be.
Noma restaurant – the life after
If you opened your own restaurant, where would it be and with which specialization?
I’m actively looking for investors to open a restaurant in the north of England. It’s where I grew up and so I feel comfortable there and can connect with people. English produce is amazing and we’ve come a long way since jellied eel/fish and chips! I’d like to make English people proud of what we have by utilizing what I’ve learnt in my career to bring out the best in it.
If I open a restaurant and ever have a mantra, it would be that I strive to create an unpretentious, fun, exciting, educational and intimate environment where it makes you feel as though when you’re there, it’s the only thing that’s happening on the planet, and that goes not only for the guests, but for the staff too. It’s much more effective if everybody is on the same wavelength and I believe that the talented, interesting and hard-working people in this industry deserve a rich, comfortable and fulfilling lifestyle, whether they have their apron on or not.