Interview with Rasmus Kofoed of Copenhagen's Geranium: Three Michelin Stars For Denmark
Rasmus Kofoed has done it again, winning his third prestigious Michelin star ahead of any other restaurant in Denmark. It's no surprise coming from this super talented chef who so far is the only man to have earned the gold, silver, and bronze trophies at the Bocuse d’Or, the world's most prestigious culinary competition. At a ceremony held days ago at the hotel D'Angleterre in Copenhagen where he once trained, he was recognized as being at the top of his game and received his third star. After winning Danish Chef of the year in 2003 he set out on his remarkable journey which has taken him and Geranium to dizzying heights not to mention the eighth floor above Parken, the Danish national stadium in Copenhagen. The first two Michelin stars arrived in the first two years of opening in 2011 and 2012 and in the interim Geranium also made an entry into the World's 50 Best Restaurants list three years ago and is holding at #42 since 2015.
Greeting guests as they step into the lounge at Geranium, the three Bocuse d'Or trophies proudly announce the chef’s culinary expertise and the spectacular experience that awaits. On my last visit restaurant was bathed in soft evening light as the sun set over the tree tops outside the windows which offer spectacular views over the lush green surroundings, the city’s rooftops, and the distant sea. The tall slim-built chef strode in smiling from the kitchen before the evening service began at ease in his refurbished, striking Danish dining room which seemed different from my last visit. Rasmus was excited to show me around the new space, especially the new inspiration kitchen (which also doubles as a private event space) and the new wine cellar, the pride of the two co-owners, Kofoed and his partner and sommelier Soren Ledit. A tad shy and mistakenly perceived as standoffish, Kofoed warmly greets guests at their tables where he might even bring a dish or two to the table himself. Guests are escorted into the sparkling kitchen area during their meal to see the live action and meet the team who are happy to engage with guests.
Once the aesthetically plated food arrives at the table and the taste buds are saturated with flavors and textures guests enjoy their experience in the elegant dining room where the views change with the seasons. On the autumn menu, a desert course described as a "naked tree” recreated the scene as it mimicked the trees outside dropping their leaves. It was typical Rasmus, an edible poetic composition with dark beer, prunes and cream that reflected the chef’s nature oriented sensibilities perfectly and unforgettably. Kofoed's cuisine has that special magic that definitely puts it in the category of restaurants worth a special journey.
Rasmus Kofoed is a great conversationalist and is very open to sharing his thoughts on various aspects of his life and work as well as his opinions and experiences.
There is a different vibe to Geranium and it seems changed from my last visit. Is there a general shift towards toning down fine dining to offer a more relaxed experience to diners?
I feel we have always aimed to do that, of course we want to give our guests a great night but we are not robots but human beings with individual brains and we want our guests to be comfortable and relaxed while we cook for them, serve them some great wine. We try to balance the atmosphere and I feel our lounge is more welcoming now. We just lightened everything up because we felt it was a bit formal and even the new furniture is made from lighter Danish wood.
The season is changing and its dark outside so now the space appears brighter. We took the long heavy couch away as we felt it was blocking the view and after being in this space over time we have a better sense and can envision how to express our ideas. When you move into a new apartment or home it doesn't fell like home till you tweak things to your taste. It's the same with a restaurant; we have been here for five years now and time has just flown by, but finally we have put our own stamp on the space. Now, it feels like home to us and after testing out some ideas we knew what we needed to do with the space and it's the same for the menu. In the early seasons we probably had too many servings and now we do fewer but more focused servings. We are still going to give the guests who are very international and come to us from around the world a great experience.
In the early years we had mainly Danish guests in the restaurant and I remember we had only one English speaking person in the kitchen, and then we had only two Danish speaking people including myself, but we have recently brought in a couple of Danish cooks. It's great to have all these languages in the house so when guests have questions we can answer them in different languages. For example my sous chef from France can speak with the French guests in their own language, an Italian cook can address guests from Italy, a Californian chef who came from Thomas Keller’s kitchen and just went back for guests from the US. I remember people from California especially loved to speak with him.
Why is it important to change constantly?
I feel we all need to change a little every day. A restaurant is like a living entity and we need to be a living part of it. We need to participate in creating this atmosphere for our guests who come to our restaurant. The kitchen needs to be a living, evolving component to bring something and give something to this atmosphere. In that respect it is important that people who don't want to be here find another place for them to work.
When my partner Soren Ledit and I worked at the old Geranium location we envisioned a better location to present our concept. Incidentally Soren is one of the best chefs in Denmark and he chose to work in the front of the house. Initially we had planned in taking weekly turns alternating between the kitchen and the dining room but he loved it so much that he never came back to the kitchen. Now he is a sommelier and has won championships become master of wine and I am really happy for him that he found his passion in wine.
Any observations on the changing face of gastronomy since you first started?
I am amazed at the many layers and facets of this world of gastronomy. When I first started I did not know any of this as while growing up I was helping my mother when she went foraging while my step dad took me out fishing. We would smoke the fish with juniper wood and herbs in the garden. I used to live within nature in a forest and I could hear the shots being fired from the hunter’s guns and some would hit the roof scaring us kids and we ran for cover.
We did not have a TV and I knew nothing about cooking, I never watched a cooking show or even know what the Michelin guide was or even names of any famous chefs. We did not have the means to eat at fancy places. Sometimes my dad would take me to an Italian, Greek or Chinese restaurant and though I ate a lot of spring rolls I did not know anything about the fancy food world. I do not miss having seen this world and I actually appreciate that it came very late to me. My interest came not because of any celebrity chef but out of my interest and curiosity about products. I liked to create food out of edible things as I found it fascinating. then came the other layers, as I learned more about wine, fermentation and other processes, even coffee and it's still ongoing. Even if you spend your whole life in kitchen you barely scrape the surface of all the knowledge out there.