Search
Close this searchbox.
Search
Close this searchbox.

RASMUS KOFOED: “I ALWAYS GO FOR GOLD”

Rasmus Kofoed (1974) has an impressive track record: he is the only chef to win bronze, silver and gold at the Bocuse d'Or, his restaurant is in the top 5 of the best restaurants in the world and is the first and only one with three stars. in Denmark. “On the day we received the third star, Geranium became a better restaurant.” Text: Bart-Jan Brouwer
Image: John van HelvertWednesday morning at 10 o'clock we enter Geranium. It is not an everyday location where the restaurant is located: on the eighth floor of a football stadium. From the kitchen you look out onto the lawn. From behind the tables in the dining room you have a phenomenal view of the city, its parks and the buildings with their copper roofs. Staff are busy getting everything ready for the approaching lunch. Fresh flowers, shiny glasses, rolled napkins, carefully arranged chairs. While waiting for Rasmus Kofoed, I stroll through the rooms of the restaurant. The book is on a table in the lobby Roger & I, in which forty chefs and sommeliers, including Rasmus, talk about the influence that Belgian chef Roger Souvereyns has had on them. In the inspiration kitchen hangs a black and white photo on the wall of Rasmus and his partner Søren Ledet embracing each other. It was taken at the moment it was announced that Geranium received a third Michelin star, making it the first restaurant in Denmark to earn the maximum rating from the restaurant guide. A wall in the dining room is decorated with herbs that Rasmus picked on the island of Samsø, and is therefore called the Samsø Wall. The three Bocuse d'Or statues that he won are displayed in a display case. Rasmus was the first to participate in the competition three times, until he won gold.

Firework bombs

Wednesday is always a busy day in Geranium, because: the first day of the week on which the restaurant opens. Products are delivered, there are meetings with suppliers, a French representative of a champagne farm has his wares tasted, and then LXRY is also there. Rasmus can handle the crowds very well, he tells us when we have taken a seat at a table. “I feel good in that situation, I like activity. And I'm used to it, don't get stressed. I think I feel alive, and I like that.” His childhood played a major role in what he ultimately became. “I grew up in the south of Zealand, the largest island in Denmark. I was a free boy, I could do whatever I wanted. At Christmas I always made firework bombs for New Year's Eve. That was very precise work – gluing, folding, drying. I enjoyed doing that, and of course also cutting them off.

The process, the details, the result: that's what cooking is all about. In the kitchen we take steps that should lead to a final explosion, but of flavors. Every day I strive for a good mental balance and better quality of food. That is not an easy process. Where many people say at a certain point 'now it's good', I want to go a little further, squeeze a little more out of it.” As a child, he helped his mother in the kitchen. Not only because he loved good food, but also because he was the eldest of five children and she was on her own. His mother was a vegetarian, so a lot of vegetables were eaten at home. He remembers them making fastelavnsbolle for Halloween; cakes made from wheat dough filled with pastry cream and topped with chocolate. “I enjoyed eating them, but also making them: making sure there was enough cream in them, that they looked the same. I already had that fascination as a child. I did things in the kitchen because I enjoyed it and was curious about the ingredients, not because I had the idea that I could make money with it later.”

nettle Soup

Because he enjoyed cooking, he went to culinary school. “I didn't know the culinary world, only my mother's cooking. I had never even eaten at a fancy restaurant before. The professional kitchen was far away from my mother's. It wasn't that romantic. It was about discipline, hard work and no seasonal products were used, as in our home. It was a tough course, but I never considered quitting. Although it didn't blow me away. The real love for gastronomy only came when I ended up at Hotel D'Angleterre in the center of Copenhagen. There I came into contact with inspiring chefs who followed the seasons. We worked with the most beautiful ingredients, such as white truffle and lapwing eggs. That stimulated me to learn more. I've set myself the rule that I have to learn at least three new things every day. That was also one of the reasons why I tried to work in a Michelin restaurant in France: I wanted to learn the language there, because French gastronomy was the norm at that time. But I couldn't manage that. However, I was able to go to the then two-star restaurant Scholteshof in Belgium. Although they speak Flemish there, many French people worked there and the menu was in French. I never really learned French, but I did learn the French menu language.”

 

It's a green plant and it's alive

After completing his education in Belgium, Rasmus returned to Denmark, where he gained further experience in various restaurants, before opening his own restaurant in Kongens Have (The King's Garden), Copenhagen's oldest and most visited city park, in 2007. “I no longer wanted to just stand in the kitchen, but also receive the guests, create the atmosphere in the dining room, and be more in control. I found a suitable business partner in Søren Ledet, whom I had met at culinary school. We clicked immediately, could talk for hours over food and wine, and became good friends. Because we both have a background as chefs, we initially planned to take turns behind the stove. But he ended up taking care of the front of the restaurant and the wines. For me it's so great to have him. We know each other inside and out and strive for the same thing: a place where it is great to work and where you are inspired every day to create a better tomorrow than yesterday. We chose the name Geranium because it symbolizes what we want to achieve here: it's a green plant and it's alive. We want a restaurant that is alive - hence the open kitchen and chefs walking through the dining room - where lots of vegetables are served and where guests come into contact with their senses.

Rammstein

The first Michelin star was awarded just a year after the opening. And another year later, Geranium had to close due to the bankruptcy of one of the investors. “It was quite a hectic time. We felt like we had to start over from scratch. And that includes a new location. Also because the old place had its limitations: the heating did not work properly, some evenings it was freezing there and we offered free cognac. In 2010 we reopened the restaurant here, at the top of the office towers of Parken Stadium. It was a completely empty space, here we could realize our dreams. We hired Danish craftsmen for the interior. We were involved in everything, I just don't think the ceiling.” It wasn't exactly the best time to open a restaurant: in the middle of the crisis... “From a business perspective it was a stupid thing. But we couldn't put our passion on hold and wait for the crisis to blow over. We were convinced that we could achieve something at this location. Not that we had the idea that it would become as big as it is now. But Søren and I are very strong mentally, and you need that. Just like the willingness to work hard and enjoy what you do. When we're here it must feel good. Because this is not just work, this is a way of life.

Dream

In 2011, Rasmus won gold at the Bocuse d'Or, the biennial world championship for chefs. He had previously won bronze (2005) and silver (2007), making him the only chef in the world to have all three awards. “There's a lot involved. You have to prepare for one to two years, as if you were a student who wants to get his PhD. Whether it concerns the Football World Cup, athletics or cooking, you must ensure that you are trained at the start. Eighty countries participate in the Bocuse d'Or and they all want to win. The fact that I have all the prizes says everything about my character. I always go for gold, whether it's in a competition or here in Geranium. That's why I wasn't satisfied with bronze and silver. I also won gold in 2016 as coach of Hungary and in 2019 as coach of Denmark – I am still into the game, like an old horse that likes to come back in the circus.” Is he satisfied with fifth place on the list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants, behind Gaggan (Thailand), Asador Etxebarri (Spain), Noma (Copenhagen) and Mirazur (France)? “I am extremely proud of this appreciation. When I heard that during the announcement in Singapore, I thought it was absolutely crazy. A year earlier we were number 19. When the restaurants were listed from 50 to 1, and we had not yet had our turn at number 19, I already thought, wow.

The future is less meat

He does not classify his kitchen as Nordic Cuisine and does not attach a label to his cooking style. “I am inspired by my environment, by the seasons. We have many local suppliers, use ingredients from surrounding farms. We only get caviar, and sometimes truffle, from outside Denmark. The menu is dominated by vegetables and fish, but we now also have a dish with lamb on the menu. I am not against meat, but I do think we should eat less of it. The future is less meat. I'm glad we have four seasons here. When I look outside, I see the leaves changing color. The trees tell me that it is time for a new phase, that I have to adjust the dishes. In autumn we use a lot of small leaves, aromatic flowers and herbs, in winter we focus more on root vegetables... I love that, the season is really challenging me.

Tulip tree

He calls his restaurant a "living entity." Is that in sync with his own development? "I think so. After winning the three Bocuse d'Or awards, I became a father. If I had had children earlier, I might not have been able to win those trophies. Now I have three small children and a wife, with whom I live on the coast. Part of the circle is complete. Last August, my seven-year-old daughter had her first day at the same school I attended, the Waldorf School in Kvistgard (waldorf school education, a form of education based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner; ed.). I never thought I would return to that part of Denmark, but it feels good. I get emotional when we get a Michelin star, but that doesn't compare to how I felt when I took my daughter to school for the first time. I was crying, really crying.

Poker face

In 2012, Geranium received its first Michelin star (the one from 2008 no longer counted because the restaurant had started again). The second followed in 2013, the third in 2016. This made Geranium the first three-star restaurant in Denmark and, together with the Norwegian restaurant Maaemo, the first in Scandinavia. “On the day of the announcement at Hotel D'Angleterre, we were having breakfast in our restaurant with the staff. It must have been a quarter past nine. The press conference would take place at ten o'clock. Just before that I received a call from Michael Ellis, then the international director of the Michelin Guides. He congratulated me on the third star. If I could keep it to myself for a while and come to the press conference: 'Get your ass down here and keep it confidential.' I wanted to shout it out, but only shared it with Søren. Then we put on our poker faces and told everyone else we had to go. They suspected something was going on, but didn't know what.” The third star generated more attention, more reservations and more pressure. “We like that pressure, we always want to perform. On the day we received the third star, Geranium became a better restaurant. I felt the team wanted to give more. It's something that just happened overnight.