One of the world’s greatest chefs moved to Mexico for 7 weeks and launched a pop-up that did $4 million of business

Renovation is expensive, especially when you’re renovating a high-end restaurant. Beyond the costs of renovation, every day your restaurant isn’t open you’re losing money.

For one of the world’s most celebrated chefs, René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s infamous Noma restaurant, a planned renovation presented an opportunity. “We just wanted to come to Mexico,” Redzepi told Vogue.

And so they did.

With Noma’s Copenhagen location closed temporarily, Redzepi and his staff re-located to Tulum, Mexico – a tiny town along Mexico’s Caribbean coastline, where Redzepi, his staff, and a group of locals are serving 7,000 meals across the span of a month.

Each of those 7,000 meals comes with a $600 price tag attached (over $750 with tax and services included) – the absurdly high cost of a “hyper-local” tasting menu meal created by Redzepi and co. When the pop-up restaurant, known both as “Noma Mexico” and “Noma Tulum,” closes shop on May 28, it’ll have grossed over $4.2 million.

Not too shabby for a one-month pop-up restaurant in a remote region of Mexico! Here’s how they did it.

Noma Mexico opened reservations last December for its 7,000 potential spots. The reservations were snapped up in under two hours.

You don’t need to eat at Noma Mexico to know Tulum doesn’t have anything like it. The chef #RenéRedzepi transplanted most of his staff there while @nomacph, his restaurant in Copenhagen, prepares to move. He said he wanted #NomaMexico — photographed here by @adrianazehbrauskas — to be “the meal of the decade.” But does the pop-up restaurant make sense in #Tulum? As our critic @pete_wells read other critics’ reviews of the Mexico experiment, he had 2 thoughts: “The first, of course, was, ‘Holy banana peels, can I pull some strings and get in?’ This was quickly followed by, ‘What is the point?’” A review of a pop-up that sold out months ago struck him as “spectacularly useless.” But what he found even harder to grasp was the idea of a meal devoted to local traditions and ingredients that’s being prepared and consumed mostly by outsiders. Noma Mexico reaches the end of its 7-week run on Sunday, but @pete_wells isn’t going to eat there.

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A few months later, on April 12, Noma Mexico opened its doors to diners. The pop-up only serves dinner, and only does that from Wednesday through Sunday each week.

People were <em>very</em> excited to try the new spin on Noma.

The meal isn’t your standard menu-based experience: It’s an omakase-style setup, where you’re paying for a battery of dishes chosen by the chef. You’re putting yourself in their hands.

The dishes are based on local ingredients, cooking styles, and traditions. Redzepi worked with Traspatio Maya, a non-profit network of Mayan communities, to source ingredients.

Possibly my favorite shot taken while in Mexico shooting for @nomacph Beautifully crafted by @thomasfrebel #nomamexico

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So, what gives with the insanely high price? $600 per person is, ya know, a lot of money for a single meal. Part of the price is paying for the pedigree of René Redzepi’s Noma, and part of it is paying for the ingredients and location, and another part of it is that every dish is hand-crafted.

Insanely orderly kitchen #nomamexico

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In so many words, you’re paying for the expertise of some of the world’s most impressive cooks.

And that means gorgeous dishes made with ingredients you’ve almost certainly never eaten.

Fruits of labor & one hell of a kick! ???? #nomaMEXICO

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It also means outrageously delicious dishes with ingredients you’re maybe more familiar with, like this “just-cooked octopus.”

Noma Mexico is located in Tulum, a tiny Mexican town on the Caribbean coast. The restaurant sits between the jungle and the sea, outside in the open.

Though there’s a canopy, Redzepi warned would-be diners back in December 2016 that eating at Noma Mexico wouldn’t be your typical dining experience.

Redzepi is notorious for his use of local ingredients, foraged from the land by hand.
Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

“Exposed to the climate, it will be hot, steaming and unpredictable. Billowing smoke and the orange glow of flames will define us as all cooking will take place over the fire. It will be wild like the Mexican landscape as we share our interpretation of the tastes from one of the most beautiful countries we’ve come to know,” he wrote.

The pop-up restaurant shuts down forever this coming Sunday, May 28. When all is said and done, Redzepi will have served thousands of meals in a tropical paradise while his flagship restaurant back home got a complete makeover. No wonder he’s smiling.