Top chefs are taking their restaurants on the road

Maverick chefs like Heston Blumenthal and René Redzepi have been uprooting their restaurants and creating temporary pop-ups around the globe. Lucy Shaw finds out what drives them to undertake such a stressful and expensive enterprise.

A dish at the Noma Tokyo pop-up

Always ahead of the pack, two years ago René Redzepi of new Nordic restaurant Noma in Copenhagen – voted the world’s best restaurant a record four times – took the unprecedented step of relocating his entire restaurant and team to the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo for a five-week pop-up.

Having tested the water in August 2012 with a sell-out 10-day Taste of Noma pop-up at Claridge’s hotel in London, where ants crawling on lettuce leaves were among the dishes served, Redzepi’s bold bid to recreate his restaurant in Tokyo was the first temporary residency of its kind that has since spawned a series of spin-offs.

Having observed his success from the sidelines, everyone from Heston Blumenthal, Grant Achatz and Albert Adrià to the Roca brothers have followed suit with highly sought-after pop-ups of their own.

The highs and lows of Redzepi’s Toyko residency were captured in a revealing 2016 documentary called Ants on a Shrimp, which explores the effort and preparation involved in moving one of the world’s top restaurants to the other side of the planet. In one uncomfortable scene, Noma’s head of research and development, Lars Williams, is filmed chopping up a live turtle in an underground kitchen and turning it into soup.

A purist in his approach, rather than rehashing Noma’s famous foraged dishes, Redzepi and his team created an entirely new menu using local seasonal ingredients sourced from all over Japan.

A year later he embarked on a 10-week temporary residency in Sydney in a purpose-built space in Barangaroo. This year, Redzepi has his sights set on Tulum in Mexico, where he and his team will cook for seven weeks from 12 April to 28 May in an open-air space between the jungle and the Caribbean Sea. Tickets for the experience are priced at £472, and if Tokyo and Sydney are anything to go by, they will sell out in seconds.

Heston Blumenthal took his The Fat Duck to Melbourne

Taking a different tack to Redzepi, when Heston Blumenthal and his 54-strong team upped sticks to Melbourne for six months last February, while his three- Michelin-star restaurant The Fat Duck was being refurbished, rather than devising an ambitious new menu for diners lucky enough to bag themselves a ticket to wonderland, he instead endeavoured to emulate his beloved Bray flagship as faithfully as possible given the parameters he had to work with.

The project was financially backed by Crown Resorts Limited, one of Australia’s largest gaming and entertainment groups, which paid for staff flights and the sizeable cost of accommodating 54 staff in downtown Melbourne for the duration of the pop-up.

Recreating a tiny 16th century Berkshire building within the Crown Towers skyscraper was never going to be easy. Everything was built from scratch with the end game, when The Fat Duck pop-up was over, of turning the space into a second Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, to twin with the original at the Mandarin Oriental in London.

“The ceilings were five metres high and the space was nearly three times the size of the original so it was a very different version of The Fat Duck, but the aim was to recreate the experience as closely as we could, which meant shipping over 14 tonnes of cargo to Melbourne, including the plates, cutlery and even the menus,” explains head chef Jonny Lake, who had the gargantuan task of leading the kitchen during the residency, ensuring each of Blumenthal’s fiddly, fantastical creations came out of the kitchen looking perfect.

From 89,000 hopefuls, 15,000 diners got to enjoy a slightly tweaked version of The Fat Duck’s famous tasting menu for AU$525 (£300) a head. Among the dishes were retired classics like bacon and egg ice cream and snail porridge.

One of the most challenging elements of the project was sourcing specific ingredients, with Lake forced to ad lib with alternatives when they weren’t available. “Sometimes the dishes turned out better than the originals – the lamb was the best I’ve ever worked with,” he enthuses.

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