Old Trafford, Camp Nou, San Siro and the Santiago Bernabeu are four of the most iconic football stadiums on the planet, but you won’t find one of the best restaurants in the world hidden inside any of them. You will inside the home of Danish football, Parken. That’s where three Michelin-starred, Geranium, is tucked away on the eighth floor, inside F.C. Kobenhavn’s 38,000 seat fortress.
While Manchester United, Barcelona, AC Milan and Real Madrid have all travelled to Parken to play in the Champions League, the stadium’s other high profile tenant has become the main attraction since they became the first Nordic restaurant to earn a third star in 2016.
Almost a decade before they scaled Everest, Geranium was born across town in the King’s Garden, where they spent two years before heating and financing problems forced them to look for a new home.
Chef and restauranteur Rasmus Kofoed was a star on the rise at the time and hadn’t contemplated moving into a football stadium when Parken made the initial pitch. He was skeptical. Football and fine dining don’t operate under the same roof. But he took the meeting. The drawings had potential, but until they were standing in the room, he couldn’t picture a restaurant inside a building that served lukewarm hotdogs and popcorn to drunk supporters at half-time.
When the same people invited them back when the new part of the stadium was developed, Kofoed and Geranium co-founder and general manager Soren Ledet were blown away. The view of the city and the water below wowed them. Suddenly they could picture their dream inside this light-filled, airy room that has become the main reason to visit Parken in the past handful of years.
It was inside that very room that Geranium and Kofoed’s status on the world stage was cemented in 2016. By then, they were the real deal in this neck of the woods. Kofoed had built an impressive resume and was held in high esteem by those in the know. But this was game-changing, especially in a city where restaurants fight for a share of the limelight in the shadows of Noma.
“That was the most amazing day. Still when I think about it, it is still a big dream. There was no restaurant in the Nordic countries that had a third Michelin star and there was no sign that this would happen. It wasn’t that I wasn’t dreaming about it, but it wasn’t something I was thinking about it at the time. I have big dreams, but it wasn’t something I could ever imagine. I was hoping that it would happen one day,” Kofoed told Man of Style over the phone ahead of the release of the 2021 Michelin Guide last month.
“I knew we had had a few visits from the Michelin Guide, but they don’t tell you anything, so you don’t know if they are satisfied. You need to believe in yourself and not think too much about them. On the exact day, we did not expect anything but we followed it. It was happening in Copenhagen and there was a press conference that I wasn’t attending. I wanted to stay with my team at Geranium. We bought some croissants and drank coffee and were excited to see what was going to happen. Would any new restaurants in Copenhagen get stars? Then I got a call at Geranium. One of the girls in the office told me someone from the Michelin Guide was on the phone.
“My walk from the restaurant to the office I could really feel my blood pumping and heart beating so fast. My heart was going, ‘boom, boom, boom’. I didn’t think we were going to lose anything because we were improving, but I didn’t know what it was about. It was Michael Ellis [former director of the Michelin Guide] on the phone and he told me, ‘Congratulations, I just want to inform you that Geranium received a third star. Please keep it confidential and get your arse to the press conference right now’. I just wanted to scream.
“Soren came in because he could feel something was going on. I told him – my best friend and partner at Geranium – that it had happened. We were hugging and crying together. Then we had to put poker faces for the rest of the team and said we had to leave. It was such an amazing day; it was so crazy because it was so unexpected. It was a great way to receive the news.”
If the third Michelin Star solidified Kofoed’s status in the culinary world, then the Dane’s sustained excellence at Bocuse d’Or put him on the map. While the World’s 50 Best list – Geranium is currently No. 5 on that list, up from No. 19 in 2017 and 2018 and No. 28 in 2016 – has become a measuring stick for restaurants in the past decade, the Bocuse d’Or is a biennial world chef championship, the Olympic Games of gastronomy.
It was founded by French icon Paul Bocuse in Lyon in 1987 and is a breeding ground for up and coming cooks around the globe. The competition comprises 24 countries and each team has a lead chef, a commis and a coach. Each chef is given five hours and 35 minutes to create two dishes that are adjudicated by a panel of 24 judges. Essentially, this was MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen before reality television evolved into the juggernaut it is today.
Kofoed was drawn to the competition after seeing pictures of the Danish team in 1997. If you look closely at the plaques outside Bocuse’s restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont des Collonges, you will discover Kofoed is the only person to be named three times. He took home the bronze in 2005, the silver in 2007 and then won the gold in 2011.
This year marks the ten-year anniversary since that victory breathed life into Geranium at a time when the restaurant was struggling to survive inside its new home at Parken. Kofoed is now coaching the Danish team, still relishing the fierce competition that propelled him from anonymity into stardom a decade ago, giving back to an event that moulded his career.
“I would not be Rasmus the chef now without the Bocuse d’Or competition. I’m very thankful for that,” he says. “It is now ten years since I won the gold, but since then I’ve coached a lot of different countries. It has been great to work with people and teams and work with the performance. I have always been fascinated about sport. I always want to be the best at what I’m doing because I want to get the best out of my life; I don’t want to waste my time here; time is valuable; life is short, so let’s get the best out of it.
“When I enter a cooking competition, I want to get the most out of it. I’ve really enjoyed every moment of it. I develop as a human being because you challenge yourself and put yourself in difficult situations where you need to handle pressure. That’s something that all the years in the Bocuse d’Or has given me.”
If you haven’t worked it out yet, Kofoed is a natural-born competitor. The longer we chat, the more sense it makes that his restaurant is based inside Denmark’s most successful football club. Much like the players that park their cars in the same carpark, Kofoed is always searching for incremental gains, both in and out of the kitchen. Health and fitness are a major priority for him and his team. That’s why he is currently training for a marathon and has eaten a plant-based diet for the past 12 months. He is always searching for ways to improve.
“I love when you have a given date in the future and you’re working every day to be the best version of yourself, knowing that you have to perform and you need to perform well on that day in the future. So how can you be stronger? How can you gain confidence? How can you get better every day? That’s seeing the beauty in small, daily progressions. Be happy but not satisfied with what you do on the day. Always think you can do better,” he said.
“If you keep that mentality and enjoy what you’re doing, that’s a great opportunity and something you should be thankful for. You need to be in good shape so you can stay focused and don’t get tired. You need to think about what you’re eating and how you can stay fit.”
The Copenhagen food scene in 2021 looks drastically different to the one Kofoed entered when he opened Geranium in 2007. Noma has long been the crowning jewel that has shone a floodlight on new Nordic cuisine. But there is also Kadeau, Alchemist, Amass, Sanchez, Baest and many, many more who garner global recognition.
But just when the Danish capital looked set to reach another level in the culinary landscape, the coronavirus pandemic has threatened not just its standing on the world stage, but the whole world stage, for that matter. Some of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants have been forced to close forever due to the crisis, and more may still follow suit if Copenhagen doesn’t emerge from its latest lockdown in the coming months.
“We are all in some deep shit right now,” he said. “We are facing this great challenge on our whole existence. The people that normally come to Denmark are not here. Will they come back like they used to do? We don’t know.
“The thing is now it’s something we kind of take for granted that we have this amazing food scene and it will just continue. No one thought there would come a virus and reset it all like it has done because it’s been going so fast.”
The pandemic has forced highly-regarded restauranteur Christian Puglisi to close Relae and Manfreds, while Rene Redzepi closed Restaurant 108. Both have pivoted to other opportunities and made the most out of a bad situation. Kofoed is confident Geranium can weather the storm and has found silver linings amid the biggest crisis the hospitality scene has ever faced, opening plant-based restaurant, Angelica, in Parken to keep his staff employed last summer.
“I’m a positive thinker so I will always get the best out of the situation, even if it is a bad one. Geranium will not close. We have a strong investor behind us and he really wants to support us,” he said.
“It is really tough; that’s reality of the situation we are in. We need to get the best out of it. At Geranium, we also need to be more creative and use the situation we are in to make things grow from this dark hole.
“The plant-based restaurant that we opened so we didn’t need to let any staff go. That was a great challenge for us. The plan is that it will reopen but plans constantly change because of the situation. With Angelica it was something I was thinking about opening for many years.
“I came back extremely motivated – maybe a little too motivated after the first lockdown. Lockdown is tough because you are staying with your thoughts and sometimes just be yourself. I’ve never been busier with my family. I’m a breakfast cook, I’m a lunch cook and a dinner cook. We just need to stay positive and it will be better in the future.”
And with that, you get the sense things will be better sooner rather than later. Football fans will trickle back into Parken next season. By then, people will be back on the eighth floor of the stadium, enjoying Kofoed’s magic in one of the most unique fine dining restaurants on earth.