»I'm still quite shocked.«
The dishwasher who has been made partner at world famous restaurant Noma still hasn't quite digested it. Ali Sonko is born in Gambia and he's not quite sure of his own age. But this he knows: in a few weeks he will travel to Mexico with the entire Noma team to open a new pop-up restaurant.
Ali caught little sleep between Saturday and Sunday. At a party for staff and friends of the restaurant Saturday, head chef René Redzepi had asked the dishwasher of 13 years, if he wanted to become a partner in the restaurant.
"Of course I said yes, but I was very surprised. Shocked, to be honest. And I was very, very happy," said a beaming Ali Sonko, when Berlingske met him Tuesday at the restaurant on the Copenhagen harbour front. "I didn't close an eye all night."
Ali Sonko gave a tour of his office, as he calls it: Ali's office - the kitchen where he knows every nook and cranny and has washed thousands of plates and dishes over the years.
He's never had a sick day: "Noma is my entire life and the staff my family. Several of them have attended the baptism of my children or my daughter's wedding. I feel a great responsability for Noma. If I am not here, I feel like something could go wrong in the kitchen. So actually, I am at my best when in the kitchen."
Noma's new partner is born in a small village in Gambia. He is not certain of his precise age, but "I feel 25 years old," he says grinning. It is quite normal not to register newborn babies in the smaller villages of his home country, he assures us.
"It is not so important how old I am. What is important is to feel fresh and perky, and I have oodles of ambitions."
It was during a vacation in Copenhagen back in 1983 that Ali met a young, Danish woman he fell in love with. They got married and Ali got a job as dishwasher at a restaurant. Years later, general manager at Noma, Lau Richter, heard about Ali Sonko who was already then known for his sunny personality and his positive influence on colleagues and guests.
"We headhunted Ali," says Richter, who struck up a friendship with his new colleague. "It does tend to get a little stereotypic what with the story of the dishwasher, but Ali also welcomes our guests and he has numerous other important functions.
But the main thing is, that Ali - the very person he is - means a lot to Noma. He creates a lovely warm atmosphere which he manages to pass on to everybody in the restaurant. It is genuine joy and that is worth much more than you would think," says Lau Richter.