Denmark´s Bocuse d´Or candidate


Sebastian Holberg Svendsgaard is now the Danish national candidate contending for the Bocuse d’Or world final. The experienced gourmet chef stands on the shoulders of the greats who taught him his trade. He highlights team wellbeing – championing openness and emotional awareness – as premium ingredients in the recipe for success. Eva Solo met Sebastian in the midst of the preparations. 

Ever since 2004 , Eva Solo has supplied premium cookware to Danish chefs competing in Bocuse d’Or, the world’s most demanding culinary competition. This prestigious contest is the unofficial European and World Cup, where gourmet chefs from around the globe compete for the title of the world’s best chef. 

The Danish team includes highly specialised chefs led by Sebastian Holberg Svendsgaard. The candidate is no Bocuse d’Or neophyte. He knows all about the fierce competition as a former junior assistant chef – commis – to Bocuse silver medalist Ronnie Vexøe Mortensen, as well as team assistant supporting Bocuse d’Or trophy winners Kenneth Toft-Hansen and Brian Mark Hansen. This year, Sebastian himself is standing by the pots. He has Philip Nilsen from restaurant Treetop and the Danish National Culinary Team as his commis. His mentor, Ronni Vexøe Mortensen, of restaurant Geranium, is the team coach.

For more than a year, Sebastian and team have been planning and rehearsing the gourmet menu to be presented at Bocuse d’Or Europe in Trondheim on 19-20 March. Eva Solo met Sebastian in the training kitchen, where the team works on both the gourmet menu and their mental wellbeing. The candidate’s quest for the Bocuse d’Or seems almost predestined. 

Even as a trainee chef, I was really into the competitive side. After my first year at hospitality college, I reached out to our competition instructor and joined a couple of national Bocuse heats, which went really well. On a college trip, we visited Morten Falk while he was getting ready to compete in Bocuse d’Or 2017. They were hard at it in the training kitchen – looking sharp in their white chefs’ garb. It all looked perfect, and I was thinking “Whoah, amazing – I have to be part of this one day." The dream was now to get a position in a Michelin-starred restaurant and become part of the team selected for the Bocuse d’Or world final. So I was raring to go when a past fellow trainee from restaurant Babette, Christian Wellendorf, who was going to commis Kenneth Toft-Hansen, called to ask if I wanted to join the Bocuse team. I started as an assistant in the three months leading up to the Bocuse d’Or 2019 world final in Lyon where Kenneth and Christian won gold. That lit a fire in my belly. 

Three quick questions


Is there any particular ingredient you prefer?

“I really like to boost the natural flavour and power of the ingredients. The intrinsic qualities of the ingredients are where the strength is.” 


What cookware items are a must for you?

“Eva Trio pots and pans of course, haha – but aside from them, a good knife is indispensable.” 


What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve created that just worked?

“Hazelnut ice cream and caviar worked out really well...”

Ready to do culinary battle

As a candidate, Sebastian aspires to draw on the experiences of his chef instructors and former Bocuse d’Or contestants. These are otherwise known as some of Denmark’s most acclaimed gourmet chefs and have blazed the candidate’s trail to the famed competition. 

As part of the team supporting Kenneth and Christian I met Danish legends Ronni Vexøe Mortensen and Rasmus Kofoed from Geranium. Ronni and I started talking about putting ourselves forward for the next national candidate and commis selections – and Rasmus offered me a job at Geranium so I could train with him for Bocuse d’Or on my days off. I couldn’t turn that down. Suddenly, I was working 7 days a week, sometimes putting in up to a hundred hours a week – but in return I got to be with some of the best chefs in the world and see how they worked at Geranium, which had just been voted the world’s best restaurant. It was incredible to be part of that. I had a lot to learn, but the dream was suddenly tantalisingly within reach. My driving force has been to just say “yes!” and see how far I could get.

As a competitive type who has served as assistant, commis and support coach at Bocuse d’Or, eventually the time comes to don the candidate’s apron. Sebastian is no exception, and he emphasises the special family feeling enjoyed with all the people who are part of the gastronomic elite competitions. 

Ronni and I won silver at both Bocuse d’Or Europe and the world final in 2021, and I also became part of the team behind the latest Danish Bocuse candidate, Brian Mark, who won gold in 2022. After that, I reckoned it was my turn to try to be in the lead. When you live and breathe the Bocuse world, you’re in such great company. I had to draw on the amazing network I had gained over the past five years – because it’s gone before you know it. 

Team boost from mental training

Sebastian has invested time and energy in Bocuse d’Or for half a decade. As team captain, he’s in no doubt about where his No. 1 task lies at this year’s competition. 

It’s such an honour to represent Denmark. That said, I’ve been at it for five years, so I’ve already filled the void created by ambitions – as in where you want to be as a chef. For me, the ultimate was being commis to Ronnie Vexøe Mortensen. Now it means a lot to me to be able to advance my own team and get everyone to excel – Philip as commis and our three assistants, Jakob, Olivia and Mathias. 

Keeping a cool head in the world’s most demanding culinary competition calls for special strengths. Which is why Sebastian and his team are not just honing their culinary skills, but the mental and emotional side too. 

We have a strong team in that many of the members are former candidates. Bocuse is one of the toughest things you can do. You devote two years of your life to a feat that has to be accomplished in just five and a half hours. You’re training several hours a day for months on end. So you have to be mentally and physically prepared for that. The psychological pressure can get intense. A lot of time and resources are invested in our participation, and you can easily fall prey to worries about "what if we don’t cut it?" Which is why we have a mental coach who trains us to deal with the pressure of living up to expectations, including our own. 

The new mindset is far removed from the customary interaction in a professional kitchen. Sebastian believes that this is the future in one of the world’s most stressful professions. 

We talk about feelings. That goes against the grain in our profession. We debrief daily, touching base on how every single member of the team felt about their day – and their reasons. We analyse all stages of the process so that we can optimise in a flash. From those little everyday things to major decisions. We’re invested in openness, attentiveness and listening actively to each other – we like being touchy-feely teddies. 

In your average kitchen, you don’t want to be telling chef you’re upset the ingredients weren’t put away the way you wanted. We look at it constructively and find a solution – to keep the team effort fine-tuned. The days of an almighty chef screaming for people to do his bidding are history. That gets you nowhere. At Geranium, I saw that a respectful tone of voice gets people performing to best ability. That way they work with you, not against you. It’s just human nature – people underperform without praise and encouragement. 


Bocuse d’Or is the world’s most demanding culinary competition, named after its initiator, French gourmet chef Paul Bocuse. 

In 5 hours and 35 minutes, the candidates and their team must serve an incomparable and unforgettable theme on plate and theme on platter – for judging by a 12-strong jury. 

Bocuse d’Or consists of the Bocuse d’Or Europe qualifying competition and the Bocuse d’Or world final. The two competitions alternate biennially. 

From a strict track to creative trials

The gastronomy training entailed by Bocuse d’Or requires as much precision as the planning of top performances in extreme sports. Unexpected stumbling blocks may crop up on the day, and the team has to be prepared for every scenario. This is why the process is carefully divided into phases. 

We use a method we call the ‘eel fyke’. Like the tapering net for trapping eels, the programme starts up narrowed down to a directional idea. Then the test phase starts, where we open up more, experimenting like crazy, with the scope to play around. Finally, we narrow it down again and settle on a direction – the ideas are honed. From there on, it’s all about working out how to shave off seconds and avoid blunders. So we do time trials over and over to build confidence for when we’re in the competition. 

With culinary wizards on your team, there’s no magic wand to keep planning in check. Even for an experienced candidate. 

We’re trying not to change anything in the last month – but you’re obviously always trying to tweak the dishes. We have Ronnie and Rasmus on board, who are both highly creative and aiming for the sweet spot – so if we’ve not hit that, we just have to keep at it. Your stomach may be in knots now and then, but if you’re not aiming to excel, there’s no point in competing. 


Family first

For Sebastian, his life has undergone a sea change, with personal ambitions now in the fast lane. Because having just welcomed his first child, he wants to make a lot more time for fatherhood. 

My dream is making it to the final so I can stop at the top. Because I’m expecting this competition to be my farewell to Bocuse. I want to be able to prioritise my son, who means the world to me, so after the competitions I’ll have to work in a way that makes more time for family life. I’ll be working for Henrik Jyrk, who is also a former Michelin chef – but in a setup where we only host companies. This makes it easier to plan life. 


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