Michelin inspectors have arrived at a restaurant in the Danish capital Copenhagen. Usually they would get away with anonymity but this time, Rasmus Kofoed and his team know that the persons dining at table are from the Michelin guide. How they realised is a story that has yet to be told but on that day, somehow, the staff at Geranium, the three Michelin star restaurant in Copenhagen knew they were serving Michelin inspectors.
The tension must have been palpable. Not knowing that you are being inspected may keep you on tenterhooks every day but there is probably no feeling more intense for a chef to know that he is being tested on the spot particularly when so much is at stake.
They serve razor clams and when the plate returns back to the kitchen, the chef and cooks realise that the edible clam shell has been left intact. So they ask the service team to send another set of razor clams to tell them that the shells are edible.
Rasmus Kofoed tells Food and Wine Gazette in an interview that they laughed about it. But how did you know that they were Michelin inspectors I ask him? He shrugs it off saying sometimes you have the feeling and this time they were right.
The Danish chef went on to become the first Danish chef to get the coveted three Michelin stars for his restaurant Geranium last year. It is not bad for a chef who went to a cooking school but was not obsessed with cooking. “Chefs did not really inspire me until I saw someone who showed me what passion meant and then totally fell in love with gastronomy,” he says.
That chef was the famous Belgian chef Roger Souvereyns. “He educated me as a chef. I wanted to go to a place where I could learn to speak French because I considered it important for my education and ended up in the Flemish part of Belgium. Souverains is a friend, he almost treated me like his son. There I learnt about the use of different plants, how sprouts become flowers. It made me hungry to learn more. I was really out in the countryside but had Souverains library and the local kebab shops to keep me busy,” he jokes.
Kofoed is also the only chef in the world to have gained the gold, silver and bronze medal in the famous Bocuse d’Or competition.
His inventive fine-dining restaurant is located just outside the centre of Copenhagen. Its location is the top floor of the national football stadium and Kofoed says that while the location might be unusual his heart stated beating when he exited the lift and the doors opened into a depressing grey room that was intended to be an office. “The place had a unique view, my heart started beating. I could see Sweden from the place which would eventually become the restaurant. I can see the park, the activity, life and that inspires me,” he says.
While his cuisine is known to be very technical, the Danish chef is also known for his creative approach to cooking as the above story about the Michelin inspectors reveals. “I lived in the middle of a forest when I was young. I remember smoking eel in the garden. These childhood memories are reflected in my cooking. I was the oldest and helped my mother in the kitchen.”
His mother is vegetarian which means that Kofoed is very attentive to vegetables in his cuisine. He believes that we should be eating less meat because first it is not good for the environment and also our health. “I remember my mother drying camomile, picking wild nettles for soup or wild mushrooms. These are all memories from childhood which I try to replicate in my cooking,” he said.
“We eat too much meat. I am not saying we should avoid meat but we should eat less of it. The future is less meat. We need to take time out of this hectic world and we need to get in touch with our senses,” Kofoed said.
Kofoed believes it is essential to stay open to the world and this he does thanks to an international team in the kitchen. “When we opened the restaurant six years ago, the team was all Danish. Things have changed and now the team is totally international,” he says.
Nature is also a source of inspiration as are the seasons, texture of ingredients. “I can draw inspiration from the layers in the leek, I might look at the skeleton of the cabbage like that of a fish. You need to see what is not obvious,” he says.
Kofoed now works in an open kitchen and he believes this is the future of restaurants. “It makes everything faster. You plate and serve it and the food is fresh, alive. We can explain what we have created. It is important for the clients to see who is in the kitchen, who is cooking for them. It is also important for us to be able to look at our customers in their eyes and see what they feel when they eat.”
Although this is a fine dining restaurant, he will deep fry the scales of a fish for a dish. “When we take something from the land we need to give it back,” he says.
He believes that he does not work as a chef but lives as one. “The world has so many layers and there is so much to dig into so the exploration will continue. You can study plant life, coffee, grains, colours, shapes, curves and how these can create impressions and memories.”
Kofoed is the first three Michelin star chef in Denmark but he will not be the last. He considers his Danish colleagues who have put Denmark on the world culinary map not as competitors but as colleagues including Rene Redzepi. “There is friendly competition. We are hungry to show the world what we can do. I am sure that at some point the team at noma will get the three stars but maybe they are not important. Inspiration and creation should not come from lists,” he says.