The rural fields and streams of Denmark's Zealand island were fertile ground for the culinary curiosity of a young Rasmus Kofoed. The chef, now 42 and a leader in "New Nordic" cuisine, first felt the spark of cooking creativity early on, helping out in the kitchen as his family's eldest child.
By 2005, Kofoed had made it to the famously intense biennial Bocuse d'Or international cooking competition in Lyon, France, earning the bronze medal. In 2007 he earned silver, and later that year, opened Geranium restaurant in Copenhagen with longtime friend Søren Ledet, formerly of Noma, the original temple of New Nordic. Kofoed made a third trip to the Bocuse d'Or competition in 2011, claiming the gold medal and becoming the only chef ever to place three times.
In 2016, Geranium became the first restaurant in Denmark to earn three Michelin stars, and the first to win Wine Spectator's Grand Award for wine-list excellence. Before heading back to Lyon, where he counseled the team from Hungary to a surprising fourth-place finish at the 2017 Bocuse d'Or, Kofoed spoke with WineSpectator.com assistant managing editor Robert Taylor about capturing hearts and minds with vegetables, pairing Champagne with pretty much anything, and how to celebrate winning a gold medal with a legendary toque.
Wine Spectator: When did you first start working in the kitchen, and what made you want to become a chef?
Rasmus Kofoed: It was a slow process. I was the oldest of five sisters and brothers, alone with my mother, and there were a lot of things to do for her. Because I was the oldest, I started helping out in the kitchen with baking and cooking, and I enjoyed it. I always liked the idea of working with your mind … and with your hands, your fingers. You can transfer your ideas to something alive, something edible. It can be a cake, a beautiful plate; I'm really fascinated by that part.
Growing up in the countryside [of south Zealand], I felt a strong connection to nature. We would go for crayfish, and fish for eel and pike, and we would smoke it in the garden with juniper berry tree [branches].
[After my culinary apprenticeships], I could see it was my calling in the world to transform vegetables and fish and produce, and make them edible. To create a little aura around it—to not only eat because of eating, but to add a little more to stimulate your heart and brain and senses. I have 25 years as a professional chef now, but it had already started when I was a child.
WS: What directions do you see cuisine at Geranium, and in Denmark, going?
RK: I am really focused on vegetables. You will also be served meat and shellfish and fish [here at Geranium], but to see the beauty and bring out the great flavor in vegetables is really interesting. We need to eat more vegetables; we need to eat less meat in the future—because we need to think about the future for our kids and for the environment. And the best way you can do that is to eat a little less meat. Because we work very closely with a biodynamic farmer, and we use a lot of local ingredients, we can also take care of the environment in the right way and hopefully inspire our guests in the restaurant.
WS: Do you have a favorite wine-and-food pairing?
RK: I think Sherry and mushroom broth. An aged wine is really interesting with a clear mushroom juice, which we serve sometimes here in the restaurant. At the moment, we have a really nice dish [paired] with a dark wheat beer: cèpe mushroom soup, walnuts, some pickled walnut skin and truffle.
A glass of Champagne to begin with is also lovely. It's a great way to start a meal, and it works so well with oysters and shellfish, and also with vegetables, and with aged cheese. That's a really good combination I think.
WS: In 2011, you competed in the Bocuse d'Or competition for the third time. How had your cooking evolved, and what made finally winning the gold special?
RK: The third time, [winning] was really special for me, because I won the competition with local Danish vegetables, biodynamic beet roots, Danish vinegar, cèpe mushrooms that I picked myself in the forest, and some of the sauces that we serve in the restaurant.
I was just more mature as a chef, I guess. The older you get—if you've still got the drive and the passion—the wiser you get, because you can make the food less complicated. In the beginning, sometimes you have too many elements; I think as you get wiser, you can have a more clean and precise idea, that's how I feel. And I'm not done at all, because the culinary world will continue [for me] until the day that I die. It's such a lovely world, and I am so privileged and happy that I found that love.
WS: How did you celebrate after winning gold?
RK: Tons of Champagne, of course! It was a great party, but the thing is, when you win, you will get up the next day, early morning, and be picked up at your hotel by a black Mercedes at 8 a.m. It took me to Paul Bocuse's restaurant.
Imagine you just won, and you wake up in the morning like you are still dreaming after a long night out partying, drinking Champagne, and then you are eating breakfast with Paul Bocuse. And you eat his favorite dishes for breakfast, which is like whole ham cooked with hay, [and] puff pastry with vanilla ice cream, tons of wine, charcuterie. I had to touch myself and see if I was still dreaming, or if I was still alive. It was a crazy experience.