American Express announced last month that Noma, one of the world’s most sought-after tables, would come to Brooklyn for five nights from May 16 to 20. Resy made its bookings exclusively available to American Express’s top-tier cardholders, who might pay anywhere from $450 to $5,000 per year in membership fees. Dinner tickets ran $700 per person, with a two-person minimum.
Chef René Redzepi was set to host the entire series. But then something predictable happened: the chef tested positive for COVID, meaning he wouldn’t be present for any of this week’s dinners. During a Tuesday night meal, per the New York Times, the tasting kicked off with an “apologetic” welcoming video from Redzepi — and then American Express went even further. It announced that all of Noma’s pop-up meals would be free, which is the type of thing that happens after, say, you get norovirus after a bad meal, not when Taylor Swift isn’t around for that meet-and-greet at the end of a concert. Accordingly, I have a few questions about American Express’s decision and the people eating there:
- If these diners had booked a table at Noma in Denmark, would they have marched into the kitchen, demanded to know whether Redzepi was present, and insisted on a refund if he wasn’t? (To be fair: I hear he often is there).
- Will American Express start giving away free Teslas if Elon Musk doesn’t individually deliver them to folks across the country like Santa Claus?
- Is American Express not setting a poor example for privileged diners to complain about their favorite high-profile chefs not being present at dinnertime — and to have to be apologetic about it — because they’re trying to stay healthy amid a global pandemic that has killed millions?
- In an era when the price of food is going up everywhere, when people are maxing out their credit cards and paying crippling interest rates so they can afford a nightly meal, should a $117 billion company really be giving out free $1,400 meals to folks who can afford such luxuries, just to coddle their big-spending cardholders?
- Does American Express really want to promote the idea that having dinner out is worthless — that it shouldn’t command even a single dollar — without a celebrity chef overseeing things? That’s not a great signal for American Express to be sending when so many folks undervalue the labor of restaurant work and the millions of people scraping by in agricultural jobs and other professions supporting the larger food system. Giving away free meals like these recalls the trope of cuisine being the product of a gifted auteur, and not the result of collaborative inspiration and collective, painstaking work.
- One last question, for my editor: Next time I miss my weekly column because I test positive for COVID-19, am I supposed to send a note to my readers apologizing for the disruption before giving everyone personalized recommendations and Groupons for Sushi Noz?