For the talented young restaurant staff who completed their vocational studies program at Noma in Sydney over the last several months, the experience has changed the way they view the industry.
There is something very special about having the opportunity to work with some of the world’s finest chefs in an Australian spin-off of what is broadly agreed to be the world’s best restaurant. Surprisingly, it’s not all about the food and the service. That is a big part of it, but at the very heart of the venture’s success is how the members of the Noma team relate to each other, the project’s Australian interns say. In working together effectively and positively, the staff make the business add up to so much more than the sum of its parts.
“The business and the people in it work like a big family,” says Samantha Levett. The 27-year-old is one of 16 Australian interns (15 chefs and one waiter) who spent the first quarter of this year working at Noma Sydney five days a week as part of a vocational studies program.
“There’s an organised chaos within the kitchen and everything just works so well because they all work as a team,” she says. “If one person is failing then they all work to help that person, which brings the entire system back online quickly and comfortably.”
Levett is an apprentice chef, working in rotation around the high-end restaurants in Sydney’s The Star casino complex. She had previously been in email contact with Noma in Denmark, launched by René Redzepi, legendary chef and co-owner of the innovative Copenhagen eatery, about potentially travelling to Scandinavia to continue her training under Redzepi’s tutelage. When the restaurateur decided to open a Noma spin-off in Sydney, she applied for one of the internship positions.
“I have always wanted to work at Noma,” Levett says. “Now that I have achieved that goal, I have discovered that it is definitely a give-and-take situation. I have learnt so much, but I have also been able to share some of my knowledge with Noma staff, including ways to keep herbs and other ingredients that don’t keep very well in the Australian environment.”
How Noma Sydney came from Restaurant Australia
John Hart, CEO of Restaurant & Catering Australia, says Noma representatives spoke with Australian authorities about a potential partnership after Tourism Australia’s ‘Restaurant Australia’ campaign caught their interest.
“This campaign was about promoting Australia through our food and wine assets and highlighting those assets to the world,” Hart says. “That was what gave rise to Noma coming here.”
“For the interns it is a completely unique experience. Rene has taken a product that he has in Copenhagen and has been able to overlay that with Australian cuisine and Australian produce. For the young Australians it really is a matchless, one off experience. I don’t think it will ever be replicated at this level.”
In order for the Noma internship to be brought to life a major process had to be completed by Restaurant & Catering Australia to make it an assessable part of a training program.
“The internship program run by Noma in Copenhagen is an integral part of what they do in their business,” Hart says. “They wanted to make sure they could do the same here, and that appealed to us in terms of being able to leave a legacy from the Noma visit. It was about imparting skills to local people and allowing them the opportunity to work in the best restaurant in the world.”
“The internship program run by Noma in Copenhagen is an integral part of their business. They wanted to make sure they could do the same here.” – John Hart, R&CA
“But we also had to make sure we were undertaking internships as an assessable part of a training program. We needed to map the skills interns would be gaining into the training system in order to make sure we had a qualification we were able to deliver and support in the workplace that was aligned to those skills. That took a fair amount of planning. Thanks to the support we got from the New South Wales Government [see box], we were able to do that.”
Through their exposure to the way the best restaurant in the world operates, Hart says, the interns will be able to consider how such models could apply in the Australian environment. And now the internship is officially wrapped in to a diploma program, he says, it can be recreated at other restaurants in the future.
Renowned restaurateur René Redzepi says the energy that interns bring to a restaurant project is invigorating, and has become a vital part of the way he does business.
“I’d say that interns are an integral part of our trade,” Redzepi says. “For a lot of interns it’s an opportunity to answer a level of the restaurant world and see what it’s all about, to maybe get inspired to maybe go down that path. It’s a lot of work in these types of restaurants that demand a lot of personal commitment and I generally feel an internship is a great way to see if there’s a collaboration that can work in the future. For us as a restaurant, to feel that budding energy that comes out of starting chef is inspiring.”
Having spent several years planning and researching the Sydney project, Redzepi has also been inspired by the Australian industry itself, which he says is innovative and filled with people that boast a wonderful work ethic.
His travels, he says, are always about learning, about challenges that could alter future directions.
“Journeys are investments into the future, of team togetherness, of challenging yourself and your mind,” Redzepi says.
“They’re profound in a way that can’t be explained. These journeys actually change you as a person.”
The intern’s story
The Noma journey that intern Levett has been on, she says, has truly changed her as a chef, an entrepreneur and personally.
“It has changed the way I look at food, which is a pretty big thing,” she says. “It has linked me in to a very powerful network of chefs. It has changed the kinds of kitchens that I want to work in and the type of chef I want to become and the kind of message that I’d like to get across.”
The Noma experience, Levett says, will give her career a boost. One day she would like to run her own kitchen and now, after the internship, the way that kitchen will look, run and feel has become perfectly clear.
“It will work like a family does,” she says. “There will be individual sections, but everyone will know what those sections consist of. So, like at Noma, everyone will be a chef de partie and know all dishes and how to help when a situation arises. People will work as a team and make sure all the mise en place is done at the same time. There will be an R&D team and the entire business will communicate brilliantly. Of course, not everyone is going to get along all the time. But everybody will absolutely know that when it comes down to it, their colleagues will never let them sink.”
Funding was an essential ingredient for the Noma internship program. Minister for Skills John Barilaro supported the internship program, engaging the Government to contribute $2,114 for each student to participate in this venture as part of their Diploma of Hospitality training. We spoke with Mr Barilaro about why his office agreed to support the innovative offering.
What was it about this project that attracted your interest?
The Noma internship program is a great example of industry coming together with Government to give young people amazing on-the-job training. The program was developed by Restaurant & Catering Australia in partnership with Noma over a number of months. When they put the case forward for support, we were happy support this initiative. The internship is the work placement component of a Diploma of Hospitality and the NSW Government contributed $2,114 per person.
What would you hope the interns get out of the experience?
Often vocational training has a theoretical or classroom component and a practical component. These lucky students are able to learn from the absolute best in hospitality, at a world-class location, to complement their theoretical studies.
What excites you about this process—Australians learning from world’s-best-practice businesses?
One great element of this program is the collaboration—it’s an example of a world leading business getting together with a peak industry body and training provider to develop a training model that gives hospitality workers high-level skills and the ability to apply those skills in a unique environment. When industry develops a training model that meets its needs and increases career opportunities, then there can be a strong argument for Government support—as in this case.
This program gives our next generation of hospitality professionals a truly global experience, to learn not from just Australia’s best but the world’s best. It’s also great to see the industry taking responsibility for its future skills needs. I’d love to see this model replicated in other industries.
It’s also wonderful to see young people just starting their careers having this opportunity—really proving that vocational training isn’t just a pathway to amazing experiences in the future, but that it can also offer you these types of experiences during your training.