World’s most remote Michelin restaurant, Koks, moves to Greenland
For the next two summers, Koks restaurant will be housed at the Ilimanaq Lodge, a 40-minute boat ride across the bay from Ilulissat, a town best known for its icebergs. This will be the first time a restaurant offers Michelin-approved cuisine in Greenland.
Dining at the Michelin-starred Koks has always been something of an expedition. To get there, you first have to fly to the Faroe Islands, a rugged semi-autonomous Danish archipelago 200 miles north of Scotland in the frigid North Atlantic. Once in country, you take a twisting drive along narrow roads cutting through a Lord of the Rings landscape and through an undersea tunnel to arrive at the lonely edge of Lake Leynavatn. From there, you must abandon your car and, fortified with fermented fish beer and cod-skin snacks in a curing-shed-turned-reception-area, climb into the back seat of a Land Rover for the rocky ascent to your final destination: an isolated wooden farmhouse that houses the most remote fine-dining restaurant in the world.
Yet even that, apparently, was not epic enough. On Feb. 23 the restaurant’s head chef, Poul Andreas Ziska, flew 1,300 miles to the west to a spot 200 miles above the Arctic Circle to begin the work of transplanting Koks to Greenland. For the next two summers, the restaurant will be housed at the Ilimanaq Lodge, a 40-minute boat ride across the bay from Ilulissat, a town best known for its icebergs. This will be the first time a restaurant offers Michelin-approved cuisine in Greenland.
To hear Ziska tell it, the move was a decision born at least in part of necessity. The Faroe Islands location that’s housed the restaurant since 2018 was always meant to be temporary while its owners looked for a spot to build their own place. “The house was built in 1741, and its ceilings are about 2 meters [6 ½ feet] high, so the waiters always had to duck down,” Ziska says. “I don’t think the farmers ever thought back then it would be used as a restaurant.”
But even after they found a plot of land, bureaucratic hurdles, concerns from environmental organizations, and a host of other obstacles prevented them from commencing construction. “It’s been four years, and we still haven’t gotten permission to build the new restaurant,” Ziska says.
Then the Koks team was approached by World of Greenland, a tourism company that runs the Ilimanaq Lodge, as well as several other hotels and tours in the country. It seemed the perfect solution to a practical problem. The restaurant, seating just 30 guests, will open from mid-June to mid-September in 2022 and 2023. Most reservations will go to guests of the lodge, but bookings for remaining tables opened on March 1.
The relocation doesn’t just serve a practical purpose, though. It also allows Ziska to pursue a long-held fascination. Like the Faroe Islands, Greenland is a constituent country in the kingdom of Denmark with a harsh terrain and climate. “As a Faroese person, I’ve always felt like there’s a connection there,” the chef explains. “It’s a place we identify ourselves with, at least when it comes to the raw materials.”
Raw materials have always been at the core of what Koks does. Inspired by the New Nordic approach he encountered in Copenhagen, founding chef Leif Sørensen set out to showcase the islands’ stellar ingredients and refined what had been until then an intriguing but limited cuisine. Buffeting winds make it difficult to grow vegetables on the islands, and the Faroese don’t have a tradition of eating the pristine shellfish that thrive in their waters, exporting most of their harvest to their European neighbors to the southeast. Instead, the traditional local diet consists mainly of cod, whale, seabird eggs, and a pungent air-dried lamb, cured without salt, called ræst.
Ziska, who worked as Sørensen’s sous chef until he took over the restaurant in 2014, has pushed the 17-plus-course menu even further, earning its first Michelin star in 2017. “We work a lot with the clean, pure flavors of the ocean.” They serve shellfish on the same it’s caught, keeping it alive in the fjord until dinnertime. “But,” he adds, “we like to contrast that purity with the fermented flavors of the islands.” Dishes such as blood sausage topped with smoked whale heart, a riff on Beef Wellington made with razorbill, and a blueberry dessert flecked with sea lettuce flakes helped earn Koks its second Michelin star in 2019.
It’s the opportunity to explore a new culinary landscape that makes the Greenland adventure most exciting for Ziska. He hopes to establish a relationship with the handful of farmers who, thanks to climate change, can now grow vegetables in the south. And he expects to find seafood of the same high quality he’s accustomed to, even if, just like at home, the locals don’t have a habit of eating it much.
Ziska also plans to forage for wild plants like crowberry and angelica, and he’s confident he can make a local staple, seal, taste good. But for someone who comes from a place where the largest wild land animal is the mountain hare, the chance to cook with game is perhaps the most thrilling. “I’ve had musk ox a few times, and it’s so so good, so I want to work with that. And reindeer. Maybe even polar bear,” he says, momentarily carried away by the possibilities before calling himself back to reality. “Of course, we’re not going to cook with any animal that’s endangered.”
Climate change has melted the ice that once blocked Ilulissat’s harbor for most of the year, opening the city to cruise ships and other forms of tourism. Until now, however, gastronomically inclined visitors haven’t been lured. But some in the region are hoping to change that, and Koks itself—in addition to working with local fishermen, hunters, ceramicists, and metalworkers—will train local chefs so they can continue to offer a similar dining experience when their residency is over.
“It is a unique opportunity to showcase our fantastic raw materials and nature,” Palle Jerimiassen, mayor of Avannaata municipality, which includes Ilulissat, told the Greenlandic newspaper Sermitsiaq. “Hopefully, it will have a lasting effect locally.”
Whether the Koks residency will turn Greenland into a dining destination is an open question. But Ziska does believe it could change perceptions of the local cuisine. “I know that in the Faroe Islands, Danes and others from abroad used to talk down our food culture,” he says. “When you have people who actually take it seriously and believe that it is something of value, it makes others more open and accepting of it. I hope it will be the same case in Greenland.”
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.