Wild flowers, lichen, moss and fungi are what grow here, and the ocean supplies mussels. The islanders keep sheep, cattle, chickens and catch fish that have been released into the lakes. Not the right basis to establish a gourmet kitchen, you might think, let alone a star restaurant. But nothing could be further from the truth! At Koks, a two-star restaurant on the banks of Lake Leynavatn on Streymoy Island, they serve the island’s native, authentic products; in fact, they only bring in products from other Nordic countries when absolutely necessary. KTCHNrebel spoke about this extraordinary concept with head chef Poul Andrias Ziska.
He got into cooking completely by accident. “I don’t think I had many plans,” he admits. When he was a student, he worked at his friend’s father’s pizzeria. “So that was my experience in the kitchen. When I finished school and thought about what to do, I decided to go to culinary school because I’d worked in the industry before. Really, it was a series of coincidences that led me to becoming a chef,”, he says honestly.
Limited product selection enables limitless creativity
Today, cooking is his passion, and he loves the challenge posed by the limited food supply on the Faroe Islands. “Sure, what we can get is limited, but that also motivates us to look for more useful and versatile products,” says the young restaurateur with conviction. His coveted tasting menus, for example, feature a wide variety of seaweed, which Ziska personally harvests from the rugged rocks along the water’s edge. However, other people also supply him with goods, such as local fishermen. “We try to get them to source more diverse products,” says the committed chef. But Ziska also sees potential in the limitations of the range of products available.
“It also stimulates our creativity. We’ve created many dishes using the same ingredients but in completely different forms; sometimes we end up using the same ingredients for a savory dish and a dessert.” That’s even true when it comes to the seaweed he likes to use. You can find it in savory creations such as a salad with mussels, lovage and seaweed, as well as in a pudding made of seaweed and blueberries.
Uniquely fresh, uniquely tasty
The quality of the products is a big plus. In unadulterated nature, they retain their purity. Because the cool climate ensures particularly slow growth and ripening, the products develop an unimaginable depth of taste that impresses even the inexperienced palate. The freshness of the products, often sourced just hours before consumption, is also incomparable.
Matured in the salty wind
Some might be surprised to learn that preserved foods also have a firm place in Ziska’s island cuisine. However, this is not just your run-of-the-mill canned food! We are talking about an ancient preserving method, which is a tradition on the Faroe Islands. “Ræst” is the word used to describe the special fermentation process in which fish and meat are hung to dry, in drying houses or in the open air, for months at very specific temperatures. Not too warm, but not too cool either. The ocean wind adds the salt.
Ziska appreciates the special taste of ræst and likes to use traditional fermented foods in his menus. A typical example is a mixture of dried mushrooms and pickled berries, served with a spicy slice of fermented lamb.
Despite the limited product selection, the kitchen tries to cater to dietary restrictions and asks guests to provide relevant information before visiting. However, Koks does not offer strictly vegetarian or vegan menus. This simply isn’t possible. “Due to our geographic location in the North Atlantic, we do not have access to a wide variety of vegetables most of the year,” it says on the website. “That’s why we can’t offer a vegetarian or vegan tasting menu.”
The day when all the water froze
In general, Poul Andrias Ziska is the kind of person who thinks of everything. “We try to be very organized and we have our mise en place, so we rarely have much go wrong,” he says when asked about his biggest kitchen mishap. But then he thinks of something. “Our restaurant is located in a green field, so all our water comes from the river, which flows down from the mountains,”the young chef explains. He recalls a time when it was so cold that everything was covered in snow and all the pipes froze – a memorable event in an area with a coastal climate, where it tends to be chilly but hardly ever freezes. This meant they had to melt snow in large pots, boil and filter it in order to have any water at all: water for cooking, for washing dishes, for cleaning… They even had to get the water they needed for the toilets this way. “We really had no control over the situation,” Ziska concludes, “we just tried to adapt to the situation, but it was a hard day at work!”