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Ants On A Shrimp: Noma In Tokyo

★★★

Ants On A Shrimp may sound like the scene you wake up to after a boozy BBQ where nobody can be bothered cleaning up before bed. But for René Redzepi and his staff at four-time World's Best Restaurant winner Noma, it’s a dish they’re putting their reputation on the line for.
 
Screening as part of MIFF, the doco follows the transportation of the Copenhagen-based restaurant and staff to Tokyo for a five week pop-up stint. With 50,000 reservation requests, there is clearly plenty of interest. So how exactly will they cope adapting the Noma aesthetic to an unfamiliar cuisine? As Redzepi explains, “We don’t want to make Noma a Japanese restaurant, we want to freefall into a new culture and see what comes of it.”
 
This is a film for foodies: there is a level of assumed knowledge of Noma and an assumed appreciation for fine food (the scene where staff scour a local forest stiffing trees for the perfect branch may seem slightly odd to those who don’t count foraging as a hobby). Director Maurice Dekkers gives the dishes the starring role – with the ingredients including the aforementioned insect playing the love interest – as we watch staff battle with pressure, culture and Redzepi’s high standards for their culinary passion. In the words of development chef Lars ‘Normal people don’t understand what we do. We are just freaks.’
 
The commitment of Lars and his colleagues to perfecting the new dishes and their craft is admirable, but our relationship with them is shallow. In pieces to camera, Dan, Kim, Rosio and Thomas give hints about the sacrifices they’ve made and camaraderie amongst the Noma staff.  But a shot of Redzepi holding his daughter and footage of a chef going home to his dog and a cold pizza (coincidentally my definition of a great night) are the only fleeting glimpses the audience gets into the lives of the chefs outside the restaurant. Fortunately, the crew are likeable and dedicated enough for us to invest in them anyway.
 
Where documentaries like SBS’s Inside Heston’s World created narratives around staff development and the challenges of moving Blumenthal’s Fat Duck to Melbourne, Ants On A Shrimp remains solely focused on the food. Which is a shame given the behind-the-scenes moments from the kitchen are wonderful. In a competition amongst staff, one chef dishes up deep fried fish sperm and when questioned about the components, retorts with one of the best lines in film this year; “Yes there is a lot of sperm.”
 
On opening day, we watch an impressive 14 course menu go out, however meeting the opening deadline and an accompanying slideshow of the dishes appears to be the measure of success. We don’t actually hear any reviews or see how the restaurant performs so just have to trust that it meets expectations.
 
Ants On A Shrimp has all the ingredients of a great film but fails to really sink its teeth into anything…besides deep fried sperm. Those mourning the loss of Masterchef from our screens will find plenty to satisfy them here but if you’re looking for a story that matches the depth of Redzepi’s food, you may need to forage elsewhere.
 
BY NICOLE RYAN