New Zealand's top chefs warn Kiwis may have to fork out more for fine dining experience

New Zealand's top chefs say we may have to pay more for the fine dining experience.

The message comes as Denmark's Noma, one of the world's top restaurants, announced it's closing its doors at the end of 2024 as its model has become unsustainable. Patrons pay around $800 for delicacies such as fruit leather beetles and grilled reindeer hearts, and are assigned a date - and year - when reserving their dining experience. 

"Noma's taken the world by storm. And people around the globe have flocked to learn from Noma and worked for free - not happening anymore," said chef Simon Gault.

Around half of Noma's staff were so-called stagiaires who worked for free and just for the experience.

"Unpaid stagiaires doing things like separating the little - I don't know what you call it - grapefruit pip, the little nodules of the grapefruit. You can't afford to pay people to do that, you can't afford to take away the tiniest leaf from something," said chef Peter Gordon.

It used to add up to a saving in wages of $80,000 a month, but post-COVID-19, the job is a different prospect.

"You've got to pay for food, inflation's gone up and the cost of everything's increased and I think people may be not so willing to do that as they used to."

Gordon said some in New Zealand do work briefly for no pay, but at his restaurant Homeland, he makes sure his staff get paid for every hour they work.

"We don't exploit anyone, but I'd like to think that in New Zealand that's sort of the norm. I'd like to think that no restaurant is saying to their staff, 'You pay to do a 40-hour week but actually you're going to do 65'. But actually that was the norm in a lot of Michelin-star restaurants in the UK."

Gault added: "A lot of these elite restaurants are coming under more and more criticism for working people too longer hours and not offering a good workplace culture."

In New Zealand, most aren't prepared to pay Noma prices, but costs are going up - and our top chefs say $50 mains may soon be the norm.

"I'd like to think that in New Zealand, no one's being exploited, so that's the assumption that I have all the time that everyone's being paid fairly and restaurant prices will increase because they have to and it's not just labour costs, it's also ingredients," Gordon said.

But fear not, foodies, Noma won't disappear. Instead, it'll become a food lab developing new dishes for e-commerce operations.