When star chef Rasmus Kofoed announced he was taking meat off the menu at three-Michelin-starred Geranium, the Danish hotspot now in second position in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, it set the gastronomic world aflutter.
But far from seeing a lack of meat as a limitation, for Kofoed it was a liberation. At home he had already been following a largely plant-based diet for the past five years.
“I wanted to take meat off the menu at Geranium, but I was stuck in expectations and tradition, cooking something I didn’t want to. I wasn’t brave enough,” he says.
Then, last month, it was gone. Geranium had never been meat-heavy, Kofoed having grown up in a vegetarian household and naturally preferring the lighter fish and shellfish of his native Denmark. But now his grand finale savoury course – beef, venison or perhaps lamb in classic tradition – is a dish called “A childhood memory”, ryebread, cheese and vegetables.
Newly unfettered by tradition, Kofoed is now “doing what I like, and what I care about.”
In with the new
Not one of Geranium’s former signature dishes remains on the new menu. The dishes are still as precisely beautiful and elegant as ever, but they draw more on Kofoed’s own reflections and memories.
One dessert, Ingrid Marie apples with aronia berries, apple butter and crispy cinnamon flowers, for example, is based on the oatmeal he makes at home for his family using apple cinnamon sugar.
The menu also draws more inspiration from the wild nature of Denmark. In a dish of oysters and clams, Kofoed adds cold cucumber juice “so you get this salty and fresh flavour, and you really feel the ocean.”
The evolution to no meat and more vegetables, and to being even more seasonal and nature-inspired, is for Kofoed and Søren Ledet, co-owner and wine director at Geranium, a move to greater authenticity and coherence.
“We feel that everything is now connected, and complete – the philosophy, the food, and the restaurant itself is all melding together,” says Kofoed.
Along with the new menu, Geranium’s interiors have also been updated in a seaside palette of flint greys and sand, with plenty of bare wood and stone. They commissioned local artist Rikke Darling to paint tendrils of wild flowering plants and insects on the walls, and worked with a band, Efterklang, to create an atmospheric soundtrack.
The refresh was compelled partly by the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the self-reflection that came with it. With the restaurant closed for the first time in 11 years, Kofoed had more time to spend with his family. He also had the mental space to take stock of how the restaurant was doing, and where he and his team would like it to go.
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“We’ve been in deep water together through the last couple of years, and now we’re stronger, with a strong team spirit. It’s a great feeling,” he says.
“The easiest thing would’ve been to keep everything the same and just make small changes to the dishes, but I like a challenge, and the process of change has helped the team regain their energy,” he says.
Brave new world
The pandemic also propelled the team to launch Angelika, a purely plant-based, more affordable and casual pop-up that Kofoed hopes to make into a permanent one-day-a-week fixture at Geranium. Several of the dishes on the new 20-course Geranium menu were influenced by Angelika and are entirely plant-based.
There were challenges in moving away from meat, however. In kitchens the world over, chicken stock is a reliable ingredient for boosting flavour, and so too at Geranium. Kofoed replaced chicken with a reduced mushroom stock. He also uses a smoked mushroom garum that they developed at Noma, Geranium’s Copenhagen neighbour that is the only restaurant to sit above it on the 50 Best Restaurants list.
Under Kofoed’s expert hands, Geranium was the first restaurant in Denmark to earn three Michelin stars, in 2016. He also won the gold medal at the Bocuse d’Or, the gastronomical equivalent of the Olympic Games, in 2011.
Is he now aiming for World’s Best Restaurant?
“It doesn’t motivate me to go to work – creating this new menu and working with my team, that’s what drives me,” he says. “Receiving accolades is the cream on the cake, but life is fragile, and you have to enjoy the process, even if it’s challenging.”