clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Chef Rasmus Kofoed on the Keys to the Bocuse d'Or and His Goals for Geranium

New, 3 comments
Kofoed winning the gold in 2011.
Kofoed winning the gold in 2011.
Photo: Bonjwing Lee

Outside of Paul Bocuse's restaurant L'Auberge du Pont des Collonges in Lyon, France, there's a set of plaques engraved on the floor that lists every single bronze, silver, and gold winner of the Bocuse d'Or, the cooking competition the chef founded in 1987. Rasmus Kofoed is the only person whose name appears three times: in 2005, he took home the bronze, in 2007 the silver, and in 2011, the gold. Because of that the Danish chef, who also runs the Michelin-starred Geranium in Copenhagen, has become a kind of symbol for the competition, someone who's ability to persevere in the time-consuming and psychologically daunting process has earned praise from fans and contestants from all over. Kofoed did not compete in the 2013 finals, but he served as an honorary judge. In the following interview, the chef talks about how he got interested in the Bocuse, what it takes to succeed, and what his goals are for his restaurant.

How did you get interested in the Bocuse d'Or? What would you say you need to do to be successful?
First of all, I was a student in around 1997, and I saw pictures from the Danish team's platters at the Bocuse d'Or. They were the first Danish team to participate and got the silver. I saw his turbot stuffed with smoked scallop and beef tenderloin with truffle and foie gras, and that lit a fire in me. It started something special in me. I knew I wanted to compete one day. I saw creativity that I had never seen before. Then, I slowly started going into competitions. I won a good number of them, and always, the next step was going to the Bocuse d'Or.

To be successful, you need to be dedicated, but you also need to use the ingredients to show your country on the plate. At the same time, you need to make it so that twenty-four countries understand it. You always need to remember when you are working on creativity and making the platters beautiful and developing the techniques — that you should think about taste and maybe toning some aspects down.

Can you talk a bit more about making the food work for all of the judges?
I was extremely happy that I finally won two years ago. I think in the first two tries, when I got bronze and silver, I was perhaps paying too much attention to what other people were doing or had done in the past. The key, I think, to making an impact on all the judges is being yourself. When I won the gold, I was using ingredients and techniques very familiar to me, because they were from my restaurant. These were the ingredients I love and feel something special for. I cooked with my heart.

Still, I think you can make it too complicated sometimes. What I'm talking about with the twenty-four judges: if I put too much ramps in one dish, it might prove too much for certain palates. You need to give it personality but also be mindful of that.

Explain how it feels psychologically to spend a year working on something and to still not get the gold. It took you three tries, and most people don't even get bronze.
When I first got the bronze, not that I was getting really famous, but I came home as a kind of gastronomical hero. But a little bit of time passed and I realized that I wasn't satisfied. The silver was interesting, because going into that one I knew I had to do better than bronze. It worked out. I went home and then I realized that I was having that feeling again. I thought about it for a good six months, until I knew that I was going to jump in again and go for that crazy challenge. I really like to challenge myself.

Another small thing: I'm going to refer to my speech in the MAD Foodcamp last year. I talked a lot there about the struggles that take place when you are competing in the Bocuse. The whole way through, you feel as if you're in a prison, in some way. The only way out is to get the gold.

Eater followed the Bocuse d'Or USA team quite a lot this year. Hopes were high, but they ultimately didn't get to the podium. What is your assessment of their effort, since you were an honorary judge this year?
I wasn't assigning points, but I did get to taste both preparations, which the other judges don't get to do. I was most impressed by their fish dish. It was a little different and it adapted to the new rule, where the fish dishes had to be plated and not come out as big presentations. I think that the USA meat platter was perhaps too overworked. Like I was saying, you can go overboard thinking about presentations and showing off techniques. One of the best garnishes I tasted, for example, was a whole, very rustic beet root cooked with its skin. Sometimes it doesn't have to be so complicated. You can't just put a carrot on the tray, obviously, but a lot of people overwork their food.

Now let's talk about the story of Geranium.
I have been head chef in several restaurants in Copenhagen, so I've really grown up with the Danish gastronomy. The first restaurant I opened with my current partner was in 2007. We eventually had to close it because of some investor problems, but we moved to a new place, where we now really have the liberty to do what we want. I care a lot about making a high-end restaurant that also manages to reflect the seasons, and we're right in front of a garden, so it's great. I designed the kitchen myself. It's a gastronomic theater. It's very open, so we can meet the guests and they can see that we enjoy our work and don't have secrets. We use a lot of products that we have in Copenhagen and Copenhagen only, but I don't limit myself just to that.

I want to ask you what makes your food unique. An interesting way to approach it might be by talking about how you view the term "New Nordic."
In some way I fall into that, because it's about the energy here and the younger generation. I like to support the Danish kitchen and our products, so you can maybe put me in there. But it's ultimately something that the journalists came up with. I know that Klaus Meyer and René from Noma signed a declaration, but I wasn't in that. You can go to a bunch of Italian restaurants, for example, and eat lots of pasta and still see differences. I would say the same about Copenhagen. At our restaurant, we like to work with the ingredients, come up with a creative idea, and ultimately develop something that is unique. There is a "cleanness" to everything here, I would say.

The Bocuse d'Or trophies at Geranium [Photo: Bonjwing Lee]

How would you compare your approach to competitive cooking and working in a restaurant kitchen?
It's very different and it's very the same. I've been training for over a decade for competitions. When you train, you have time to be creative and develop new things. You have time that you don't normally have in a kitchen. So, I've been working with monkfish and beet root for many years, which has allowed me to learn new preparations and possibilities with products. I started when I was 28 and now I am 38. There has been a lot of learning.

For example, when designing the kitchen, I was able to draw from my experiences in the competition to come up with something that was comfortable and functional.

You got every trophy available at the Bocuse d'Or. It would be hard to think you don't want to move up on the 50 Best List or get two more Michelin stars, right?
I would be lying if I said I didn't care. It's a very nice goal to have with the staff. Bocuse d'Or is a very ego trip competition, because it's just you and your commis and maybe a few more advisors. Here, at the restaurant, it's a team. And having those goals is quite meaningful. They help everybody along.

· All Rasmus Kofoed Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Geranium Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Eater Interviews [-E-]


Per Henrik Lings Allé 4 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark

Sign up for the Sign up for the Eater newsletter

The freshest news from the food world every day