For some people food has become the first thing that they look out for in a destination. Countries that have ignored this are now realising that they can attract a certain type of gastronomic traveller if they can up their game. For those chefs or destinations that are looking for inspiration as to how it can be done, they should look no further than Poul Andrias Ziska, a 26-year-old chef from the Faroe Islands whose restaurant KOKS has won its first Michelin star.
This young talented chef has shown what can be done with passion, with fresh food and with what nature can provide you in one of the most remote islands in Europe.
Other than for its football team which competes in the European championship, its sheep and its reputation for amazing seafood, few would have heard to these islands at least from a gastronomic map until Poul put them on the map.
In the tiny hamlet of Kirkjubour, on the Faroe Islands, Poul was already a household name among foodies serving a 17-course tasting menu that is mainly inspired by the sea. This year, he has also managed to win the islands’ first Michelin star putting it really on the gastronomic map.
“If you want to cook on an island like the Faroe Islands you have to cook with what you have because it is very remote. You can never establish a high quality restaurant by getting produce from around the world because this has to travel,” he told Food and Wine Gazette in an interview.
“We are able to serve gastronomic meals because we can focus on the ingredients that we find around us. That is one of the reasons that we can offer gastronomic meals. Fish is very important for us because the fish and shellfish we get in our restaurant arrive within 15 to 20 minutes of leaving the sea. For land ingredients we use lots of lamb and sea-birds though we are now starting to get more and more vegetables,” Poul said.
Poul believes that the seafood is one of the best that you can find in the world. First there is the proximity but there is also the climate and clean environment which plays a role. “The sea does not change much in temperature during the year and this also has an impact on the quality of fish and other sea food.”
In some cases, they keep the shellfish in the sea in boxes and only pick up what they need just before serving it to guests. This ensures that there is no waste but is also served as fresh as possible.
“It is great that I can cook for my guests and show them that we have something unique and something that we can be proud of. This is what we have been eating in the past, how we have been eating and we also serve lamb in a way that you cannot eat in anywhere else in the world. It makes me happy to be able to cook with ingredients that I have been eating my whole life,” he said.
Why did he decide to open his restaurant in the Faroe Islands when he studied in Copenhagen? “I was born and raised on the island and was never away for a long time. I lived for one year in Copenhagen while I was in Chef school and there were a couple of years where I was going back and forth but my place is here,” he tells me. “If I had to open a restaurant in Copenhagen, it would have to be a completely different approach because you do not have access to the same ingredients and it is not the same market,” he said.
More natural and honest to work in the Faroe Islands
Poul told me that it felt more natural and more honest to be a part of this project on Faroe Islands than to work elsewhere.
While many chefs may find inspiration from produce he tells me that in the Faroe Islands he has to adapt to what the producers offer him. “The restaurant scene in the Faroe Islands is very new and I cannot ask the farmer for a special type of carrot or goat’s cheese. There is no way to select produce but it is up to the farmer.”
But things are slowly starting to change and he tells me that the secret to these changes and to other chefs or countries wanting to follow this approach is threefold. “You first need to pay the farmers. You also need to find someone who is passionate about what they do and who is also willing to spend a lot of time to work on something that there might not be a market for. A market will grow. Today in the Faroe Islands there are more and more restaurants willing to spend money to find produce like onions and garlic which we did not use to find before. Today, farmers are realising that they can also make money with other produce and not just potatoes or kohlrabi.
Poul was taken by surprise that Faroe Islands has been in the spotlight but says this has been positive because it has meant that they could push further. “It puts pressure on us but it is still positive. As long as there is balance between the pressure and what we do, it is fine,” he says.
He is of the view that Nordic cuisine as a label is over. “In the beginning when it was starting you had to label it because there was no other way. This is what was going on. People are however looking at individual restaurants and it is no longer about Nordic but rather regional or what the restaurant has to offer.”
Poul masters the artistry of distilling taste and smell from the Faroese landscape, combining them in exquisite dishes. The palate is local, uncompromisingly Faroese.
Rather than chasing the novel for its own sake, every effort is put into exploring the ancient practices – drying, fermenting, salting and smoking.
His chefs know how to treat local meat and fish, both fresh and ræst (a unique local method of fermentation). They understand ræst, how the flavour is best developed and how to incorporate it in new dishes.
Poul says that some of these fermented foods can be a challenge to his guests. For example, he can use fermented cod fish for three weeks which has not been salted and which is cooked with fermented lamb guts which are cleaned and fermented for three weeks before being minced.
He says that in the Faroe Islands most people have a place where they ferment their meat and this is not found in commercial stores. The bacteria in the meat is the same that one finds in blue cheese which is why it has the same intense flavours as blue cheese.
The Faroe Islands is set to be the next frontier of the Nordic revolution. That will also be partly thanks to Poul.