An intern at Noma said she was told not to laugh during an unpaid stint at the world's top restaurant.
Namrata Hegde worked at Noma in 2017 but said she spent little time learning about cooking.
Noma founder René Redzepi will close the restaurant in 2024, The New York Times reported.
The world's best restaurant might not be the best place for aspiring chefs to learn their craft.
Copenhagen's Noma will be closing for regular meal service at the end of 2024, The New York Times reported on Monday. The closure comes as founder René Redzepi told the Times that he cannot compensate staff fairly while keeping the restaurant open.
Noma has been the highest-ranked restaurant on the list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants five times. In 2021, it received a third Michelin star. It's also pricey for patrons, with meals adding up to $500 per person.
But one former intern's experience, recounted in the Times, points to deeper cultural problems for Noma and Redzepi.
The intern, Namrata Hegde, told the Times that she spent most of her time assembling beetles made of fruit leather — a process that involves drying jam in segments and piecing them together — but little actual cooking.
Hegde worked at Noma in 2017, according to the article. She was not paid for her three months of work. Her managers, who were junior chefs at Noma, told Hegde that she was not allowed to make noise, including laughter, while she worked, she told the Times. The restaurant did provide her with a visa allowing her to come to Denmark for the internship from India, where Hegde graduated from culinary school.
"I thought an internship was about me learning, as well about contributing to Noma's success," Hegde told the Times. "I don't believe that kind of toxic work environment is necessary."
A spokeswoman for Noma told the Times that Hegde's story "does not reflect our workplace or the experience we wish for our interns or anyone on our team." Noma began paying interns last October, a move that added $50,000 to the restaurant's monthly costs, according to the article.
Issues with employee compensation and treatment on the job have emerged at many of the world's highest-ranked fine-dining restaurants in recent years. That includes restaurants like Noma, which say that they focus more on doing good in the environment and society than rivals.
In 2021, Insider reported on disorganization and employee treatment at New York's Eleven Madison Park. another three-Michelin-starred restaurant. One junior prep cook who worked at the restaurant told Insider that he was yelled at when he scooped ice "too loudly" while working for $15 an hour. Eleven Madison Park, which became vegan in 2020, also threw lots of food away, according to the prep cook.
Redzepi founded Noma in 2003. Since then, the restaurant has attracted diners and culinary workers for its "New Nordic" style, which uses local ingredients instead of imported ones.
But the restaurant has also faced reckonings over how it treats workers. Redzepi himself has admitted to bullying his staff verbally and physically.
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