When it comes to competing on a global stage, chef Rasmus Kofoed has been there and done it all. In February, his Geranium restaurant in Copenhagen became the first in Denmark to win three Michelin stars (rivals Noma only have two). Previously, he has won bronze (2005), silver (2007), and gold (2011) at the Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon; as well as gold at the Bocuse d’Or Europe (2010). Now he’s had a hand in another audacious triumph at this year’s Bocuse d’Or Europe in Budapest – for Hungary.
As well as being named Honorary President of the Bocuse d’Or Europe 2016, the 41-year-old Danish chef played a key role in coaching chef Tamás Széll and the Hungary team to victory. Ahead of the contest, in his official programme blurb, Kofoed had been full of praise and expectation for the home nation: "It’s a country which is eager to promote the revival of its gastronomy, the richness of its products and terroirs, the creativity of its chefs and the variety of ingredients that are available in nature," he wrote.
Few could argue with that. But there were gasps of surprise when Hungary were crowned champions, so what magic ingredient did Kofoed add to the recipe? "I hopefully brought a lot of inspiration, after all the years it took for me to get the gold," said Kofoed. "Also, telling the story that everything is not easy, that you have to work hard and be dedicated to achieve success in life, as well as in the kitchen. Hopefully it can inspire other chefs to work hard and to be a part of this beautiful creative competition."
Winning chef Tamás Széll was a little more revealing about Kofoed’s influence on the Hungarian campaign: "He tasted [our dishes] and said 'It is correct, it is ok.' We went back and he helped us put the finishing touches, the look and final preparation of the dish, and the menu card with some pictures."
Kofoed’s vast experience in the competition was clearly an important factor in the Hungarian team’s preparation. "Being in the box with so many people watching is an incredible feeling - if you're prepared," said Kofoed. "If you're unprepared and you're facing all these people, you are not feeling right. It can be scary as hell. But if you can lift it up from there, if you're prepared, then it's really great. It's something you will always remember for the rest of your life."
Taking part is one thing, but how does it feel to win gold? "Of course, it was a dream," said Kofoed. "I also won the Bocuse d'Or Europe in 2010, and that was a really big moment because that was the first time I was number one on the podium. Lyon was also great, but I already tried to win it once before there."
The plaudits and adulation that go with victory are sweet, but for Kofoed, success in such a prestigious competition represents a key stage in the development of a top chef.
"It is very important for young chefs as it helps to mature them," said Kofoed. "Bocuse D'Or Europe is really difficult to win - almost as difficult as the Bocuse d'Or in Lyon (here is what happened in 2015). It really prepares them for the next step. But you have to invest everything here. You need to have ambition."