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FOOD & DRINK

Nordic chef sets up world’s northernmost Michelin restaurant in Greenland

You can only get there by boat or helicopter, but Michelin-starred chef Poul Andrias Ziska hopes his restaurant in remote Greenland, far above the Arctic Circle, is worth the journey.

Accommodation at the Ilimanaq Lodge, the current home of the KOKS restaurant, on 28th June, 2022
Accommodation at the Ilimanaq Lodge, the current home of the KOKS restaurant, on 28th June, 2022 in Ilimanaq, Greenland, where guests can watch whales and floating icebergs in the Disko Bay. Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

The 30-year-old chef relocated his restaurant KOKS from the Faroe Islands in mid-June, leaving behind his relatively accessible address for Ilimanaq, a
hamlet of 50 inhabitants hidden behind icebergs on the 69th parallel north.

Housed in a narrow black wooden house, one of the oldest in Greenland, the restaurant can only accommodate about 20 people per service, and experiments with local produce, including whale and seaweed, with fresh produce almost impossible to find in the harsh climate.

“We try to focus on as much Greenlandic products as possible, so everything from Greenland halibut to snow crabs to musk ox to Ptarmigan, different herbs and different berries,” the tousled-haired, bearded chef tells AFP.

Double-Michelin-starred Faroese chef of KOKS restaurant Poul Andrias Ziska is photographed outside the restaurant housed in the Poul Egedes House in Ilimanaq, Greenland on 28th June 2022

Double-Michelin-starred Faroese chef of KOKS restaurant Poul Andrias Ziska is photographed outside the restaurant housed in the Poul Egedes House in Ilimanaq, Greenland on 28th June 2022. Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

The young chef previously ran KOKS at home in the remote Faroe Islands, where he won his first star in 2017, his second in 2019, and the title of the
world’s most isolated Michelin restaurant. 

He plans to return there for a permanent installation, but explains he had always wanted to stretch his gastronomical legs in another territory in the
far north, like Iceland, Greenland or even Svalbard.

He finally chose Ilimanaq, located an hour’s boat trip from Ilulissat, the third-largest town in Greenland and famous for its huge glacier.

Greenland, the world’s largest island, is an autonomous Danish dependent territory.

Local products

“We just found it more suitable, more fun to do something completely different before we move back in our permanent restaurant,” he tells AFP from
his kitchen, set up in a trailer outside the house with the dining area.

With 20 courses, the extensive tasting menu will delight the taste buds for some 2,100 kroner ($280), excluding wine and drinks.

“The menu is exquisite and sends you to the far north and back,” Devid Gualandris, a charmed visitor, tells AFP.

“From the whale bites to the wines, from the freshly caught fish and shellfish to the curated desserts, everything is bursting with flavour.”

While whale meat is a staple food in Greenland and Ziska’s native Faroe Islands, whaling is banned in most of the world and activists have called for
an end to the practice.

A KOKS chef prepares food at the kitchen of the restaurant housed in the Poul Egedes House in Ilimanaq, Greenland, on 28th June 2022.

A KOKS chef prepares food at the kitchen of the restaurant housed in the Poul Egedes House in Ilimanaq, Greenland, on 28th June 2022. Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

An unlikely locale for a gourmet restaurant, Ilimanaq — Greenlandic for “place of hope” — is home to a small community living in picturesque wooden
houses, next to hiking trails and more fittingly a luxury hotel, making it an ideal stopover for wealthy tourists seeking to explore new frontiers.

For Ziska, the customers in Greenland are different.

“There are a lot of people for which the number one priority is to visit Greenland and then they come to our restaurant,” he says.

“In the Faroe Islands we had mainly people interested in coming and eating at our restaurant and then obviously also visiting the Faroe Islands,” the
chef explains.

In addition to the adventurers who have already been lured by the Arctic landscape, the Greenlandic Tourist Board hopes the restaurant will also help
attract gourmet travellers.   

People get seated in a restaurant overlooking Disko Bay in Ilulissat, western Greenland, on 30th June, 2022.

People get seated in a restaurant overlooking Disko Bay in Ilulissat, western Greenland, on 30th June, 2022. Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

“The unique combination of high-level gastronomy, the inherent sustainability of the North Atlantic cuisine and the characteristic nature and resources of the Disko Bay, speaks to all our senses,” Visit Greenland’s director, Hjortur Smarason, said when announcing the arrival of KOKS.

Accommodation at the Ilimanaq Lodge, the current home of the KOKS restaurant in Ilimanaq, Greenland, where guests can watch whales and floating icebergs in the Disko Bay. Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

A long-overlooked destination, Greenland — an Arctic island territory nine times the size of the UK — welcomed more than 100,000 tourists in 2019, nearly double its population, before Covid cut the momentum.

Smarason said the presence of KOKS “is exactly what we strive for in our effort to reach a certain distinguished kind of guests”.  The restaurant is open between the 12th June and 8th September, 2022 and 2023. 

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FOOD & DRINK

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.” 
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