Sydney Film Festival: Ants on a Shrimp

Rebecca Varidel
15th Jun 2016

Before I read about it in the international food press, I learned from René Redzepi (albeit via his Instagram account) that Noma was in Japan. I remember the Instagram post well. It wasn't at all about food. The toilet image was accompanied by a description about how hard it was for a tall man to use a urinal in Japan. And I remember, it was also my first glimpse into the wry sense of humour of Redzepi.

Of course, as a lover of good food, I had already heard about, read about, and one day had hoped to make a pilgrimage to Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant, where René Redzepi is owner-chef, and which was awarded the World's Best Restaurant in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

This film about Noma in Tokyo, Ants on a Shrimp enabled me to delve past what I had read, and gain a richer understanding of Redzepi's food philosophy. Beyond the culinary epiphanies, Ants on a Shrimp is also a documentary that is brilliantly made, with captivating cinematography and editing, and with a storyline that is serenely paced. The film like the best dish you have ever had looks simpler than its underlying complexity, and even with numerous and unexpected components, ultimately creates harmonious flavours and tasty eating. To be honest, I knew in my heart I would enjoy this movie, not just because it was about the highest of high end dining, or because I knew it would include references to foraging and rare Japanese ingredients. With Redzepi's involvement I expected quality. Yet, I didn't expect to love this film so much, to be ready to start over watching it again as soon as it had finished, or to exclaim it as the best food movie that I have seen. Well at least, in its own unique naturalistic way, to declare it on equal footing with the ultimate love story about cooking, Babette's Feast.

Like that Danish drama, Ants on a Shrimp unfolds slowly as it simultaneously embraces us. The countdowns to opening become shorter and faster the closer we get. We start with planning and testing in Tokyo with the Noma core team. Peeling. Slicing. Cooking. Tasting. Talking. Shopping. Sourcing. And more talking. More planning.

For a while we are taken back to the kitchen in Noma Copenhagen. We marvel at the sheer immensity of the kitchen team. And their dedication. And we see some inklings of the mind of a top modern chef, and his use of technology, as we watch him videoing four chefs, four new cookery ideas.

Then back in Japan we watch Redzepi and cohorts getting closer to the day the chefs will serve their Tokyo guests. It's good to be nervous.

Ants on a Shrimp is the name of the first of the 15 courses that were finally decided upon, the first of the tasting courses on the Noma Tokyo menu. Food so fresh the live langoustines still wiggling with their acidic dotting of insects against the sweet flesh as they are delivered to the tables by the chefs. Ants on a Shrimp is also a story about failures, and life, and comradery, and passion, and commitment, and ultimately about the humble pursuit of excellence.