René Redzepi Offers His Longtime Dishwasher a Share in Noma

Ali Sonko has been Noma’s dishwasher for 13 years, is now a co-partner at the internationally acclaimed restaurant

He has spent 13 years washing dishes for one of the most famous restaurants in the world, and now he reaps his reward.

Ali Sonko, an immigrant from Gambia, works at one of the most famous restaurants in the world, but he is invisible to most patrons. As the head dishwasher at Copenhagen’s recently closed Noma previously named The World’s Best Restaurant — for 13 years, Sonko may not be used to being recognized for his work.

However, this past Friday, after Noma finished dinner service for the last time, chef and owner René Redzepi announced that Sonko, along with two other Noma employees — the restaurant's service director, Lau Richter, and manager James Spreadbury — will be joining him as business partners at the new iteration of Noma, which is set to open at the end of the year.

“Ali is the heart and soul of Noma,” Redzepi said in a speech during the goodbye party for the restaurant. “I don't think people appreciate what it means to have a person like Ali in the house. He is all smiles, no matter how his twelve children fare. And, by the way, my own father was also named Ali, and he too worked as a dishwasher when he came to Denmark.”

The new iteration of Noma will not be a traditional restaurant, but rather will consist of an urban farm with a space for a kitchen and a rotating menu to serve guests from an entirely self-sustainable source.

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Sonko has been recognized for his hard work by the culinary community before. In 2010, when Noma was first recognized as the best restaurant in the world, he was unable to attend the ceremony due to work visa limitations. The entire Noma staff accepted the award wearing shirts imprinted with his face on them. Two years later, he was able to attend the award ceremony and give a speech himself.