Copenhagen’s ‘Geranium’ crowned world’s best restaurant

Danish establishment "Geranium" has been crowned number one in the coveted list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants this year, which left a bad taste for shunned French chefs.

Copenhagen’s 'Geranium' crowned world's best restaurant
Head chef Rasmus Kofoed pictured at Geranium in 2021. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix

The ceremony was due to be held in Moscow this year but was moved to London after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and there were no Russian restaurants ranked.

“Geranium” is run by chef Rasmus Kofoed in Copenhagen and is the second Danish restaurant to win in a row, taking over from Noma last year.

“Just as we were called up I felt butterflies, adrenaline,” Kofoed told news wire Ritzau.

“I got tears in my eyes and I felt the warmest feeling that something we have been working on for so many years is coming together,” he said. 

Fans might say Geranium “came together” years ago — in 2016, it became the first Danish restaurant to receive three Michelin stars, the highest ranking the organisation awards. 

A multi-course affair that takes a minimum of three hours to eat, dining with Geranium will set you back a cool 3,200 kroner a head this summer — while the wine pairings range from 2,000 kroner to 18,000 kroner. 

Two other Copenhagen restaurants made the list — Alchemist at number 18 and Jordnær at number 38 — while last year’s first place winner Noma fell off the rankings. 

Peruvian restaurant “Central” in Lima came runner-up in the coveted list of the best, established by British trade magazine Restaurant in 2002. 

Spanish restaurants “Disfrutar” in Barcelona and “Diverxo” in Madrid came third and fourth.

Inspired by nature, Kofoed’s restaurant received the first three Michelin stars for Denmark in 2016.

The awards named Colombian Leonor Espinosa as the “world’s best female chef” and her restaurant Leo was ranked 48th in the list.

Despite France’s famed cuisine, only three French restaurants — all in Paris — featured in the top 50: “Septime” in 22nd, “Le Clarence” in 28th and “Arpege” in 31st.

The list is selected by 1,080 independent culinary experts including chefs, specialist journalists and restaurant owners who note their experiences in the past 18 months under the aegis of the magazine.

The experts are divided up into 27 regions with 40 voters each and they can each vote for 10 restaurants including at least three outside their region.

The list, sponsored by several brands, often comes under fire, especially by French chefs who accuse it of complacency and a lack of transparency.

French critics, as well as those from Japan and the United States, established their own “La Liste” in 2015, ranking 1,000 restaurants worldwide.

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How does food qualify as organic in Denmark?

Denmark was the first country in the world to get its own organic law and the “Ø-label”, stating that food is organic, can be seen on around 13 percent of products across Denmark's supermarkets. But what does it mean about the food you're eating?

How does food qualify as organic in Denmark?

If you go to a Danish supermarket, you will notice many food products marked with a red “Ø” label. This organic label, which stands for økologisk (“organic”), was introduced in Denmark in 1990 and is “a very special stamp from Denmark,” according to Per Jensen, Organic consultant at agricultural advice company VKST.

It means the food you are eating has passed the Danish government’s regulations for organic produce; a law that was introduced in 1987 as the first organic law in the world and a law that has just raised the bar on how organic food is produced in Denmark.

The standards Danish organic farmers have to meet is higher than the regulations set out by the EU, which were first introduced in 1991.

“Organic essentially means no fertiliser,” Per Jensen told The Local. 

“However, you can use manure from farms that use fertiliser. The organic Danish farmers’ unions have pushed to change the rules so that from the 1st August 2022, no more than 45kg of nitrogen per hectare of manure can be used from farms using fertiliser that isn’t organic,” Jensen said.

Nitrogen is essential for plant growth but its supply can be limited, which is why it’s often applied as a fertiliser. There can however be some negative impacts on using fertiliser, such as polluting groundwater, which is why organic farmers don’t use it. But in Denmark, the country’s organic law goes further than many countries to eliminate traces of nitrogen. 

“On an organic farm in Denmark you need 20 percent of clover-like plants sewn in your field every year. These plants, like peas and horse beans connect nitrogen from the air, into the soil, so you don’t need to rely so much on manure. Some farmer don’t use manure at all and rely on clover plants,” Jensen explained to The Local.

There’s also a law that states 50 percent of crops in organic farms must make the soil rich in carbon, as well as a time limit of 8 hours on how long live animals can be transported.

This organic law is set and checked by the Danish government each year, on top of the regular EU checks. It results in food being given the prestigious Ø label and red crown and when exported, or bought in Danish supermarkets, consumers are “getting something special – there are no pesticides or herbicides in these products and they have a high level of credibility,” Jensen reiterated.

How much food is organic in Denmark?

In 2021, 11 percent of total farmland in Denmark was organic, which is roughly 312, 000 hectares. 

Organic food made up roughly 13 percent of the total retail food market in 2020 and proportionally, the organic market in Denmark is the biggest in the world, according to the Danish Agriculture and Food Council.

It states that the most popular organic products are eggs, (30 percent of total egg production is organic) oatmeal, wheat flour, carrots and bananas. One in three litres of milk bought by Danish consumers is organic and half of milk in Danish schools is organic.

In 2015, the Danish government announced “the world’s most ambitious” organic plan. It included doubling the amount of land dedicated to organic farming by 2020 compared to 2007 and serving more organic food in the nation’s public institutions.

According to a 2021 report by the University of Copenhagen, 22 percent of the food served in Denmark’s canteens, kindergartens and other public sector workplaces was organic. That compares to 39 percent in Sweden and just 1 percent in Norway.

In 2016 the City of Copenhagen announced that  88 percent of all food served in the city’s public institutions was organic, which was believed to be the highest percentage of organic food anywhere in the world.

However Jensen, organic consultant at agricultural advice company VKST, told The Local the ambitions to expand organic farmland had not yet been fulfilled. 

“Due to the war in Ukraine, the cost of manure is very expensive. So don’t expect a big increase in organic food at the moment,” Jensen said.

“Some farmers will stay as organic farmers no matter what. But others will change depending on the price. Sometimes being organic will be better money for the farmer but other times it won’t so, they’ll change to non-organic to grow for the best economical result,” he added.

Is organic food healthier?

A group of Danish researchers and academics presented a 136-page report to the Norwegian Food Directorate in 2021, which could not agree on whether organic food was healthier to eat than non-organic food.

“When it comes to nutrients it’s exactly the same as non-organic,” Karin Østergaard senior lecturer of Food Science and Nutrition at VIA University College, Aarhus, told The Local.

“The pesticides disintegrate into the soil quickly and you can’t use pesticides at all just before harvesting so you won’t find them when you eat the food,”  Østergaard said. She added that the limits set on pesticide use, plus all examinations on the food and health research means you shouldn’t be worried.

“The level of traceable pesticides on food in Denmark is very low compared to the EU in general and certainly outside the EU. So if you buy Danish products that are non-organic, you are still getting a very good product,” she added.

There was alarm in 2019 when traces of pesticides were found in drinking water in Denmark. Østergaard explained that these were aggressive pesticides that were banned many years ago that took a long time to reach the ground water. “The pesticides used today are not such a problem”, she said.

Despite the debate, organic food remains popular in Denmark.

“I think it’s because people today are beginning to think more of what they’re eating and they want a better product and that’s why they go to organic because they know it’s not been sprayed with fertiliser and the product is not a lot more expensive than non organic,” Jensen said.

But he predicts a drop in the number of people buying it.

“Right now there are other things that influence what people are buying, such as the rising cost of living so then you just have to buy the cheapest product.”