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noma tulumRené Redzepi, famed chef of Copenhagen’s Noma, recently opened a pop up restaurant in Tulum, in the jungles of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, for a seven-week run. Called by some “the most enviable meal of the year”, the 7000 tickets were sold within two hours of being released, purchased of course by the dialed in, international jet set/culinary travelers who can afford the plane fare, hotel, and $750 per head ticket after tax and service.

Redzepi is highly regarded as the chef who took locavorism upscale, insisting that ingredients and inspiration be rigorously local so that any restaurant aspiring to international acclaim must exhibit a sense of place. And this pop up seems to satisfy that condition with dishes inspired by the local cuisine and making creative use of its distinctive ingredients.

But Peter Wells the restaurant critic of the NY Times is not having any, refusing to attend or review the event.

“What I find hard to run through my critical algorithms, though, is the idea of a meal devoted to local traditions and ingredients that is being prepared and consumed mostly by people from somewhere else.”

Hmm? What Wells describes applies to most of the restaurants in the world if they cater to tourists? Where would the restaurant business be without tourism? Many places such as Tulum flourish only because of tourism.

Wells grants that Redzepi’s extravagant project was a creative success:

I don’t blame Mr. Redzepi and the Noma crew for coming up with an event that makes my critical lens fog over. They’ve acknowledged that they owe something to Mexico and tried to pay it back. In Tulum, they’re chasing their curiosity and raising new bars to vault over, which is what creative people should do.That’s the artistic side of Noma Mexico.

So what exactly is the problem?

On the business front, they’ve chosen to pour their creativity into something that, because of its planned scarcity and relative expense, has to be seen as a luxury product. Luxury goods tend to float free of the everyday world and create their own cultural context, one of wealth and exclusivity.

Again, this is true of the vast majority of the world’s best restaurants. Is Wells going to refuse to review the best restaurants in New York because they are, indeed, luxury goods?

It is surely lamentable that wealth distribution throughout the globe is so skewed that great food can be enjoyed only by the fabulously wealthy. I doubt that Well’s moral grandstanding does anything to remedy that.

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