There was a time when Copenhagen was easily the most exciting city on the planet for food. Rene Redzepi’s Noma had been named the best restaurant in the world four times, Amass had recently opened and was receiving rave reviews. Tourists were flocking to the Danish city with the sole purpose of visiting as many restaurants as possible throughout their trip. It was, to put it simply, a cornucopia of opportunity for hospitalitarians, and the place to be if you wanted a career in food.

It is in exactly this environment that Cat Kirkwood found herself when she moved out to the city after graduating from university – a trip that was supposed to last a year and ended up extending out to eight. It was while working in hospitality roles when she was at university studying for a degree in guidance and counselling that Kirkwood’s passion for the industry was ignited. “I had always been very interested in good food, but that was kind of the beginning,” she tells me.

Whatever spark was lit inevitably grew to a full-blown inferno when she joined Bror in Copenhagen, a now-closed restaurant from two Noma alumni, Samuel Nutter and Victor Wagman. The restaurant was a slightly more casual take on the city’s commitment to good food, eschewing classic, Noma-esque fine dining in favour of heartier dishes that followed a nose-to-tail ethos, catering to a more everyday diner without sacrificing on ingenuity or excitement. While they still served a ‘tasting menu’, it was a lot more down-to-earth than the 20-course experiences that had become de rigueur in the city. “Victor and Sam both worked with Matt Orlando at Noma. And when he went off to open Amass, they left to start Bror,” Kirkwood tells me. “That was a really great experience. It was my first venture into tasting menus, but it was a lot more casual and a good fun environment for my early twenties.”

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But a burgeoning interest in sustainability had her setting her sights on Orlando’s Amass. “I was just overwhelmed by what they were doing with food and the space and everything, it was so unique,” she tells me. “So I kind of kept my eye out and after about a year or so at Bror I got offered a job at Amass.” She started at the bottom of the ranks there – “I was pretty inexperienced,” she tells me – but she quickly rose up the ladder. “I got to be waiter, head waiter, I did bookings, I did the events, I was assistant restaurant manager and then I was restaurant manager for the last couple of years.”

For the unfamiliar, Amass was a world-leading restaurant in the field of sustainability. While this has become something of a buzzword in recent years, with many chefs and restaurants purporting to make eco-friendly changes without actually doing anything substantial, sustainability truly was the driving force behind Amass. After a thorough analysis of its carbon footprint, Orlando made significant changes throughout the restaurant that lowered its carbon-dioxide emissions per guest from 18kg to 12kg (the fine-dining industry average is 25kg). Its commitment to lowering food waste resulted in an uptick in culinary inventiveness that secured it a place as one of the world’s best restaurants time and time again. It was indicative of this culture of world-leaning cooking and restaurants that had permeated throughout the city.

“I think there was a specific period of time that I was very lucky to work in fine dining in Copenhagen,” Kirkwood tells me. “It had a lot of momentum and a lot of eyes on the city. We would be full from the moment it became a bit warmer, right through to the winter. All year round really, but in summer it just always felt like there were so many people in the city and they were just there to eat everywhere. We would get people that were like ‘We’re doing Amass tonight, and Geranium tomorrow.’ It became this cult centre where people would go and do this big food trip.” She describes working there as “full-on. I’m glad I did it when I was in my early twenties. I don’t know if I’d have the energy for what was happening now, but it was really good. It felt very exciting to be there at that time.”

If I'm working in food, I want it to be positive. So I was looking for projects that centred around sustainability

And so, when the time came to move on, Kirkwood set out to find somewhere of equivalence to Amass and its impact. That place ended up being Dan Cox’s Crocadon Farm in Cornwall. “After my time at Amass, I was just like, 'I have to work somewhere where people recognise that the food system is very damaged,'” she tells me. “If I’m working in food, I want it to be positive. So I was looking for projects that centred around sustainability. But I do understand that word is used a lot, and when I came to Crocadon to check it out, I was really impressed. I hadn’t seen anything like it before, and Dan is one of the most researched people that I’ve met in terms of all of this. He questions everything, which is something that was just integral to the day-to-day at Amass.”

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Crocadon Farm is a project five years in the making. Since purchasing the land in 2017, Cox has been slowly preparing it to be as self-sufficient as possible, rotationally grazing cattle, planting orchards, and establishing thriving crops. Hundreds of varieties of fruits, herbs and vegetables used by the kitchen will come from the farm itself, drastically reducing the restaurant’s carbon footprint. His hard work was rewarded with a Michelin green star at the end of March, less than three months after formally opening the doors. Given the young age and enormous scope of the project, Kirkwood’s role is multifaceted and widespread, involving everything from managing reservations and bookkeeping to helping out on the farm and curating the wine list.

The rural South West of England might be a bit of a jump from Denmark, but Kirkwood’s career path and commitment to venues doing good for the environment proves that it doesn’t matter how urban a location you inhabit; if you’re dedicated to sustainability, it’s an achievement that’s within reach, regardless of whether you’re harvesting from a small garden in an industrial park in Copenhagen or a farm in the heart of the Cornish wilderness.