Trailblazing chef Rasmus Kofoed: On top of the world, where to next?
By Tina Nielsen | Photos: Claes Bech-Poulsen
Rasmus Kofoed’s career reached a crescendo last year, when his Copenhagen restaurant, Geranium, was awarded the global top spot at the annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. We caught up with the visionary Danish chef to talk winning accolades, meat-free fine dining, and the year ahead.
It’s been quite the year for Rasmus Kofoed. Speaking at the end of 2022, the chef and co-owner of Copenhagen restaurant Geranium is still buzzing from reaching the summit of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants last summer. “It has been an amazing year,” he says. “A lot of things are constantly happening in my life. I got married last year and the climb to the number one spot was amazing to achieve with the team.”
Inevitably, with success comes pressure and scrutiny. If Geranium was busy before topping the 50 Best, it reached another level afterwards. “It has been quite busy because of all the attention and extra pressure from guests and the booking system,” he says. “But I’d rather have that than the opposite.”
Kofoed is unrivalled as the world’s most decorated chef. He has a clean sweep of bronze, silver and gold medals as a competitor in Bocuse d’Or, the prestigious international culinary competition that takes place amidst a stadium-like fervour in Lyon every other year, as well as several victories as a coach. He helped Hungary win the European edition in 2016, and in 2019 took Denmark all the way when Kenneth Toft-Hansen won the global event.
“The Bocuse d’Or journey was crazy and so inspiring,” he reflects. “It is the base of everything I do. It helped me to develop as a chef, gain confidence, focus my work. It created a lot of things which have shaped how we run Geranium.”
Kofoed opened the second iteration of Geranium in its current location, Denmark’s national football stadium Parken, with his long-time friend and collaborator Søren Ledet in 2010.
Looking back to those early days, he says they were modest in their ambitions when they were asked to write them down as part of the process to move into the premises.
“We really pushed the limit by saying we would work to get two Michelin stars and hopefully be number 20 in the world. We thought this would be realistic if we really did our best,” he says. In 2016, Geranium became the first restaurant in Denmark to be granted three Michelin stars – the highest award by the little red book.
A natural progression
Kofoed has often spoken of his own almost-vegetarian lifestyle, and over the years, Geranium has followed – becoming a culinary vanguard of exceptional fine-dining, sans meat.
“It has been a natural progression and it reflects the way I like to eat and live my life. I was enjoying a few meat dishes ten years ago, but now I just don’t need it in my life,” he says. “There are so many other great things and I also believe it is healthier to eat more vegetables and a little fish sometimes. I feel great, full of energy and I am almost 50, so I guess it works for me.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, this exploration of meat-free cooking resulted in Angelika, a vegetarian pop-up restaurant that is now closed, but one he dreams of reviving as a permanent concept. “We still do it as a pop-up. We recently did one at a farm,” he says. “One day I will open one permanently, but I have a lot of things going on in my life right now. I have my wife, my three kids, my restaurant, my restaurant family and my real family. It would be egocentric to open another restaurant, because it would demand focus and time from me that I would have to take away from others.”
With the pandemic over and an eye on the future, Kofoed went ahead and removed all meat from the Geranium menu at the start of 2022. It was part of a grander overhaul that also did away with all the signature dishes on the menu. “We came up with a totally new menu and taking meat off gave me more freedom. I felt I could work straight from my heart. Before, it had to fit in the menu all the time – I knew we had to have the meat dishes here, the hake dish here, the razor clams there,” he says.
Kofoed is hoping he can show the way forward in a country of ardent carnivores. “We really would love the Danes to eat less meat than what we do now – more like what we used to do in the ‘50s, when you would eat meat once a week and eat more vegetables. Today, that’s not the case. Sadly, we eat the completely wrong way now.”
Energy and life
For 2023, Kofoed has no great plans to change, but will focus on continuing the evolution that started last year. “We have changed a lot, so I don’t want to stretch the team too much by changing a lot of other things,” he said.
Anybody who follows Kofoed on social media knows that one of his passions in life is running – his half marathon PB stands at a cool 1 hour, 25 minutes, 50 seconds – and on a personal level, he would like to improve on that in the new year. “After a run, when the blood is still pumping, I feel like I am flying,” he says. “Sometimes life can be ordinary because it has to be. I take my kids to school, I prepare their breakfast. When you have a good run, you get ideas, you see things differently. When your heart is beating and you are just there with your body and mind and close to nature, it is an amazing feeling.”
It also provides a nice break away from the madness of the success he has lived, though there seems to be little risk of him getting carried away. “Of course, I am proud. It’s very special. But achieving the number one spot and the three Michelin stars is not something I think so much about. What makes me feel proud is when I see what we created in a room that was dead. In a grey, boring, concrete room we created colours and energy and life with the staff that has been with us for so long,” he says.
“I can do great things by myself but it is not the same as when you work with other people. It is a different energy, and that is really amazing, I have great people here who I admire and I am so happy about that, it is so amazing that we created this magical place in 12 years.”
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