A New Northern Light: The Faroe Islands

Chef Poul Andrias Ziska is leading a culinary revolution in the Faroe Islands. With sourcing local produce being the heart of his restaurant, here he shares the basic rules to becoming a good forager.

Chef Poul Andrias Ziska is leading a culinary revolution in the Faroe Islands.

At only 27 years old, Poul Andrias Ziska has won his first Michelin star. The accolade was presented to him in January this year, and has propelled his restaurant, KOKS, to new heights.

Ziska's win is as much a personal triumph as it is one for the land where he is based. Located in the North Atlantic between Iceland and Norway, the Faroe Islands are home to a unique food culture based on the ancient practices of foraging, drying, salting, fermenting, pickling, curing and smoking. Ziska's nod from Michelin, the first for the Faroes as well as for the chef, is a green light for seasonal and sustainable produce, for serving the best of the wild islands on a plate.

What was your childhood experience of food at home? Did you learn to forage or to cook with local ingredients?

It depends a lot on where you are from. If you are from the capital then food is influenced by modern industries. You can have everything you want from all over the world because it is in the supermarkets. However, if you are living in smaller villages then food is much more locally sourced, people eat more traditional foods and are more self-sufficient. For me it has been a little bit of both. My grandfather had his own farm - we slaughtered our own sheep, ate our own geese at Christmas and my mother used to forage sorrel and make soup with it. I have been close to the traditional ways of life in the Faroe Islands, but I have also experienced living like people in the capital Tórshavn, and being exposed to all the temptations that cities have to offer.

This seems to be part of the struggle of maintaining the old, yet knowing the new, and finding ways to combine the two. KOKS is located in the capital city of the Faroe Islands, you attract many people from all over the world who you want to share the Faroese food culture with, yet you have to find a modern way to be able to do so.

Exactly. Our traditional food culture is such a big part of our identity. I am not afraid that it is going to die, but it is getting less and less present in the capital. It is amazing to be able to have a restaurant like this, where we are proud of our traditional foods and share this. I hope that it will provoke local people to start appreciating it for what it is - not only the people in the villages, but also the people in the city.

The Faroe Islands are incredibly beautiful, but also have a climate that can be complicated to work with - has this been limiting?

The climate is a big part of the food culture. We dry and ferment without salt. We have a very cold summer and a warm winter, which gives us more or less fridge temperatures outside all year round and causes the air to have specific bacteria. We have little houses outside with wooden bars and gaps in between that make for an unregulated, natural fermenting process. It is all about the climate, which makes the food what it is - both for the preservation methods that we have used for centuries and in terms of the vegetables. The season is later than usual, and we are very limited when it comes to growing vegetables, but the few that we do have here are very flavoursome and concentrated.

Foraging seems to be at the heart of your restaurant. What would you say are the basic rules to becoming a good forager?

You have to respect what you take - you do not want to stress anything. When we started out we knew maybe only five herbs. Now we know many herbs and seaweeds because we kept searching. It's a lot of exploring, but it's also down to coincidence. Sometimes we find out about a new herb or seaweed by accident because we were trying out another herb and accidentally took a little of something unknown, which ended up tasting amazing. There is so much more to discover, and the sea especially is limitless. We already have more than 270 kinds of fish, and I don't even know how many different types of seaweeds and shellfish. There is always going to be more to discover.

Why are you particularly drawn to working with ingredients from the ocean?

I thought the Faroe Islands in general lacked produce from the ocean. About 94 per cent of the Faroes is water, and we have been living off the sea for centuries, yet this was not known or shared anywhere. Our menu is almost entirely based on produce from the ocean, and I think that this is something that makes KOKS unique. There are very few places in the world where you get seafood as fresh as here. We get our langoustines, sea urchins and clams delivered to the restaurant only a couple of hours before we open. So when you eat them the fish has been living in its natural environment only a few hours earlier.

Does a menu at KOKS give you the experience of the wild in the Faroe Islands?

I think so. We have the freshness from the sea, the history from our traditional ways of cooking, the fermented lamb. One of our desserts is a sorrel ice cream with a granita made from grass. When you eat it, you feel as though you're walking up the mountains outside. You can smell the grass, taste the freshness. The plate is a representation of what you see when you are in the Faroe Islands, even what you see when you look out of the windows of the restaurant.

Do you want to be provocative with your dishes, and if so, how does this align with the idea of letting people experience the Faroese food culture?

A menu should be a combination of surprising, provoking and pleasing. I want people to think about what they experience, and there needs to be a balance between safe and challenging. To tell people about our food culture by serving them dishes, we need to present them things that they know in order to make them realise that there are things that they don't know - the modern and traditional that we were talking about earlier. It also feels as though provoking people can sometimes be necessary to make them understand the intense wilderness that these islands have.

You just earned your first Michelin Star, which recognises the quality of your work. What are your future aspirations?

Right now the main focus is on creating the new restaurant that we are building. Then it is vegetables. We have cracked the code for seafood and meat here on the islands - which dominate the Faroese food culture - but the question now is how to have our own vegetables. The challenge is to grow them and inspire the local people as well. I would like to be a pioneer of Faroese vegetables.

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