Riccardo Canella's farewell to Noma: «Free are those who are deeply rooted»

The chef from Padua, who's been managing the test kitchen of the restaurant in Copenhagen, says goodbye after six years with René Redzepi: he's making space for his new personal projects

08-01-2021
Riccardo Canella at Identità Golose 2017, in a

Riccardo Canella at Identità Golose 2017, in a photo from Brambilla-Serrani. The chef from Padua leaves Noma in Copenhagen after six years 

“Find what you love and let it kill you”. When Bukowski wrote these words, they were hidden in between the lines of a short story that was slipping towards its end, without any hint of a happy ending. He dropped them there – peremptory and beautiful – making them eternal.

Those were words full of poetry, dedicated to strong, perhaps crazy passions. The kind you need to live fully, when you come across them: with hectic rhythms, without any uncertainty. The kind you must second, and let overcome you. They're so strong they leave the smallest space for any other feeling.

In the case of Riccardo Canella it was Noma in Copenhagen that inspired, for years, his thoughts and actions, shaping their rhythm and intensity: the physical space, his philosophy, the energy that has exploded in the meantime, landing in every corner of the planet. The internship was meant to last a few months, in 2014, starting with a legendary pop-up restaurant in Tokyo. It became six years in which all sorts of things happened: with the direction of René Redzepi, of David Zilber and Benny Ing, they've written crucial pages in the international modern gastronomy, what we can define pure avantgarde.

The dining room at Noma

The dining room at Noma

During this time Riccardo has conquered the respect of his teammates and his responsibilities, he defined his role (crucial: for the last three years he's been co-manager of the test kitchen, the lab where they create and develop every dish that ends up in the menu).

Now the chef from Padua, born in 1985, considers this experience in the 4-times best restaurant in the world (for the World's 50 Best) over: «My decision was thought over. I had already considered it seriously at the end of last year. The pandemic helped the process: in January René and I were in Japan – a one-month-and-a-half trip for research and inspiration – and we started discussing this. Then the lockdowns: having all that time to think made me reconsider many professional details. I looked back and realised I had dedicated the last six years of my life to the restaurant, without any space for anything else».

«I panicked –Riccardo admits – I started to be affected by this fact of being always on the edge, a situation that allowed me, nevertheless, to improve, and be always focused on what I was doing. I felt I was missing the ground under my feet, thinking at the goals we had aimed for, and for which I had lived until that moment. I must admit I've always found it hard to find my balance in this story. There's no point trying to reach your dreams if you cannot be present for yourself. In my case, perhaps it was because I had been immersed for six years in the – sideral – speed with which I had to face things. Having a balance between personal and private life that needed to be completely rebuilt. For me only Noma existed: it was at the first place in every aspect of my life, but my attention was removed from everything else. And when this started to weigh, it was hard even to express it. In September Redzepi and I had another long chat and agreed this would be the best time to make my decision concrete».

The staff at Noma, in a last supper version 

The staff at Noma, in a last supper version 

Early in 2021 he will return to the Danish capital and will start to work on his new project: «But I know I need to make a significant step on a personal level, rather than professional. I will have to work hard on myself: I'm mentally exhausted, but I'm recuperating lucidity by spending some time in Italy, with my family. I feel very much responsible for this new phase in my life, but I think it's a very effective way to interpret what I believe will be our profession: I would like to give my contribution to a real change in the restaurant industry and in the food system, and bring my message to as many people as possible. I don't want to open a restaurant that will fill my ego, receive awards, draw the attention of journalists and professionals: I wouldn't be fully satisfied. We have lived for years in a social model in which the message was that you had to be the best, the coolest, you needed to have a status. Nobody ever focused the attention on being, simply, oneself. I see many colleagues – from San Francisco to Tokyo – who do the same things, copy each other, but don't have the guts or the skills to develop their identity with assertiveness: this is not the right type of cuisine for the future, because I imagine something less “scenic”, something that will “tell the truth”. Recuperating our human dimension will be crucial, paying attention: for a cook it will be like holding a pan once again, as a concept, like the gesture of cooking for someone. It's about revealing yourself to clients, friends, family. If you do it with love, the emotion will pass, and focusing on other things, copying others, doing something that doesn't represent you, will be pointless».

Times of crisis always bring big changes: after what has happened in the dynamics of the world, the questions that Riccardo poses himself are about the future (even though this is surrounded by thick clouds of uncertainty), about the models of the future restaurant scene, about the new gastronomic revolutions: «Making creative dishes, having brilliant ideas will no longer be enough. We will need to fix everyday things, treat the staff well, offer work, economic and ethical sustainability to restaurants. Become more and more connected with territories. We will be touched by things made with soul, simple things. We will sit around the table to be in harmony with others, and have deep experiences».

«I'm more than happy about my career so far –Riccardo ends. – In the past three years in the test kitchen I've come up with all sorts of ideas, even though only 10% of what came out of there was later included in the tasting menu, but rather remained in note books and in the research. “Free are those who are deeply rooted”: this was my last message on the walls of Noma. To know where you're going, you must know where you come from and – like a tree – the deeper your roots are, the higher you'll be able to explore. Now is a time to continue to expand my approach and knowledge, to continue the research of the many pieces I'm still missing, so that the mark I will try to trace will be as deep and stable as possible».

Canella at Identità Golose

Canella at Identità Golose

Here is Riccardo Canella's goodbye to Noma:

September 9th, 2014 - December 8th, 2020 My journey at Noma comes to an end. 
As every experience in life, there's a time in which you have to turn the page and face a new chapter.  In this crazy time, staying longer would have been the easiest decision to take but I felt that, for my personal growth, and for the growth of the restaurant itself, I had to move on. 
Right after the first lockdown in March, all the certainties I had crumbled at my feet. I found myself from being extremely confident and motivated, to feel completely empty and useless. I understood that, if I want to take the next step in life, I have to start from myself. 
I've not always been good to myself and to the people around me: I'm a restless mind with a very dark side. At the same time, digging deep enough, I'm a pure heart yet hard to reach. 
It was in that time that I wrote something that I believe it's going to be my philosophy in life: 
People before money 
Feelings before success 
Freedom before constrains 
Responsibility before guiltiness
Compassion before hate 
Love upon them all. 
My job is still going to be thinking and making avant-garde. And so it will remain: horizons will change but not the path. We will continue to need to feed our souls and our minds, to elevate ourselves to be connected with our emotions, to give vent to our creativity, to be human more than human beings. 
I feel there's still so many things that i want to learn and to be challenged with but, in this moment, moving forward doesn't mean looking far away but within myself. And right now, that's the farthest point to reach. 
Noma changed my life forever, something I can't explain in words. Between those walls, magic happens every day. "Magic" in its purest etymological way - "the highest form of knowledge".
After six years of blood, sweat and tears, I'm leaving knowing the fact that all the people I've met there, I can call them brothers and sisters. 

I believe that everything I've created and achieved it's nothing but the starting point. 
⁣⁣
Love, 
Riccardo
"Libero è colui che ha radici profonde"


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