Teaching nutrition and flavour
Text Finn Jørn Jakobsen, greenland today, July 2014
The area where the deep Nordre Sermilik and Tunulliarfik fjords cut into the landscape at Narsaq is rightfully called Greenland’s pantry. Rivers and lakes make the place an Eldorado for anglers seeking salmon and Arctic charr and between the impressive mountains there are lush meadows that are perfect for grazing and agriculture. Even though the Greenland ice sheet is in many places only 30 km away, the climate is milder than elsewhere in Greenland, so the conditions are perfect for many types of farming. Climate changes in recent years mean that South Greenland’s 41 sheep stations have been able to supplement sheep farming by growing potatoes and various vegetables of high quality. This is why it is logical to have a catering school in Narsaq.
Until the 1940s, when the fishing industry really started to develop, hunting was the predominating source of revenue in Greenland. But over the following decades the rapidly changing structure of society created a need for labour that was not associated with either fishing or hunting. And to reduce the necessity for importing professionals from especially Denmark, vocational training was established in Greenland for e.g. building and construction, ship’s carpentry, forging and commerce and business. Inuussutissalerinermik Ilinniarfik INUILI was founded in 1989.
Students at INUILI live in one of the three modern dormitories which are an integrated part of the school. Apart from the rules prohibiting smoking and alcohol, the students set their own standards and rules for the individual dorms.
When you are young and away from friends and family, it is easy to become homesick. There is therefore a great emphasis on ensuring that the students are as comfortable as possible in a well-functioning social network. Social life in the class room and during recreation is a prerequisite for obtaining the maximum academic benefit of the teaching. The college has therefore fine recreational offers in the form of a club with a music practice room and fitness facilities. There is a recreational room, equipment for trips, equipment for showing films on a big screen and other activities arranged by the student council or the college staff. The school also rents the town’s sports hall one day a week.
More than just a college
INUILI, which can celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2014, is more than just a college. It is a school for the hotel and restaurant branch and for all the professions that work with food in Greenland. But INUILI is perhaps first and foremost a centre of innovation for a range of branches which have changed significantly over the past 25 years – like so much else in Greenland.
In other words, the catering college is the hub for a development that has totally revised most people’s perceptions of gastronomy, nutrition, food safety, service and hotel standards in Greenland. The fish factories with their own laboratories, modern food stores, hospitals and a wide range of institutions have become a natural part of the structure of society all over the country. The former primitive accommodation has been replaced by four and five star luxury hotels with conference centres. In recent years, a new generation of star chefs in Greenland has challenged the old food traditions by thinking unique local ingredients into creative gastronomic combinations with inspiration from the world’s great kitchens. Professionals agree that the catering college in Narsaq has played a major role in this development over the past 25 years.
And it will continue to do so. As we know, stars don’t make themselves – neither those from the international hotel classifications nor the high-profile star chefs who create stellar culinary moments for their guests. Stars are made by people with ambitions. Regardless of whether they are cooks, receptionists and waiters, or whether they are from other professions in the tourist and food industries.
INUILI offers 10 different fields of study, with training for cooks, waiters, nutrition experts, nutrition assistants, reception and tourist assistants, catering and canteen assistants, butchers, bakers, receptionists and process technicians.
Although all these professions have a high value for society and therefore also for the college’s board and management, there is no doubt that it is the training of chefs that gives the college the highest profile. The culinary »revolution« in particular has received a lot of public attention. Greenland’s annual championships for chefs are particularly popular and have resulted in a lot of media coverage here. Moreover, several of Greenland’s top restaurants have attracted attention from abroad. A high gastronomic standard is highly appreciated by the increasing numbers of tourists, various political delegations and the many international researchers and business people who visit Greenland.
There are many definitions of the concept of innovation. One of them is that innovation occurs when technology and invention are combined with commercial insight in an attempt to meet new challenges. But innovation is just as much an idea for the introduction of an improved process. If we also add new knowledge, modern research and creativity, we reach a definition of innovation that could sound like this: Activities which, on the basis of traditions and new knowledge, develop hitherto unknown possibilities which can generate increased value. Actually a very good picture of the role INUILI has played for 25 years – and not least a description of its ambitions for the coming years.
We want to be the best school in Greenland
The ambitions for the college have a common theme according to Poul Nørris Christensen. He took over as principal of INUILI in 2013, where his first challenge was to ensure the completion of the necessary expansion and renovations which had come to a standstill a couple of years previously when the main contractor was declared bankrupt and which had stopped part of INUILI’s development. This has now been rectified and new and wellfunctioning facilities will be opening in this anniversary year.
– The fact that we are getting more space and more modern facilities gives us the opportunity to re-think how parts of the college function on a daily basis, says Poul Nørris Christensen.
– This doesn’t mean that we are throwing aside previous thoughts and procedures. Quite the opposite. They have been doing a great job for many years and we can use this in the college in future. Unfortunately, all too often we see that earlier decisions and systems are thrown aside so new ones have to be built up from the ground. This is not in line with my way of thinking. In my opinion, it is better to create change by building on top of what is already there. In other words, development based on existing experience. It is important, not least here in Greenland, to anchor the knowledge that has been built up through the efforts of skilled people.
Poul Nørris Christensen was born and raised in Narsaq, but he lived for a long time in the capital, Nuuk, where he was also one of the major forces behind the new and improved educational opportunities for young people. This is a good background for the leader of a school which gives its students the professional and lingual skills they need for the future.
– It is an old dream, that has come true, continues the principal.
– How many people are lucky enough to return to their childhood town to a fantastic job developing one of the country’s best profiled vocational schools? Right now, we are busy implementing our long-term strategies. Both on an organisational and practical level, but also with regard to teaching. Some of this can be put shortly: We want to be the best school in Greenland. No more no less, smiles Poul Nørris Christensen.
– The entire staff should be proud of being a part of INUILI. You could say that INUILI needs progressive people, because they must help young people to make progress. As role models, we must remember that we are not only judged by what we say, but also by what we do. We must constantly involve the students in the things we teach them and it is precisely this involvement in the practical work and their own experiences that we are best equipped to carry out at this college. Whether we are talking about shorter courses or longer courses lasting several months.
– We must be able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. People come from very different origins and back-grounds and we have to understand what each of them needs, professionally and in the way of support and inspiration. In other words, we need to prepare people to build victory for themselves. We must spread the awareness that we are not just people from small isolated towns, but that we are world citizens today and that we have a lot to offer; as individuals, as a people and as a country. We must encourage people to stop thinking: »What is it that limits me? What is it that limits us?«
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From Greenland’s pantry to the gourmets of the world
It is clear that Poul Nørris Christensen is very attached to Narsaq and to the beautiful countryside in South Greenland. He speaks enthusiastically about the opportunities he sees for further development of agriculture and for establishing new production based on local produce with, of course, INUILI as a professional and inspirational hub.
– One of the jobs for the future is to bring the attention of the world to our local products. We can produce much more if we get the right support. We know that we have unique produce in the air, on land and in the water, so we should be able to develop an export of luxury products. With the prestige the Nordic cuisine enjoys in large parts of the world, there is a demand for products with a special story. And is there any better story than the one about the way Greenlandic fishermen, hunters and farmers battle against nature – and their ability to provide freshness and flavour under the terms of an Arctic climate? In addition, there is the story of the Norsemen, who came with Erik the Red to this region in the times of the Vikings and lived here from about 1000 until 1400, where they left many traces in the form of well-preserved ruins and old churches.
– There is also an increased consciousness about nutrition and health and these are important subjects at the college. One example of marketoriented product development could be that we use cluster cooperation to catch and develop products for sushi. If we can establish efficient logistics I find it hard to believe that e.g. gastronomic »in« places in Copenhagen won’t stand in line to serve sushi straight from the Arctic Ocean.
– Some of the chefs who trained at this college now have the status of star chefs at the best restaurants in the country. They know exactly what is required to live up to the high gastronomic standards demanded by discerning palates. This is why we use them as guest teachers when we can. It is inspiring for the other teachers at the college and for the students – and we get surprises at the dinner table in our canteen, when they have worked with the students in the kitchen to conjure up new, tasty dishes.
– We don’t just reach for the stars; we create our own, ends Poul Nørris Christensen.
We must keep improving
One of these stars is Ilannguaq Hegelund who, like his brother Inunnguaq, has made himself a name as one of Greenland’s gastronomic beacons. As an apprentice he won an award in 2010 for the best main course at »The International Youth Cooking Competition« in Budapest and last year he was elected Professional Chef of the Year at the Greenland Championships at INUILI.
When greenland today met Ilannguaq at the college, he was bent over a plate in the kitchen – busily showing how to arrange the food – while a group of hopeful apprentice chefs concentrated on following each movement with their eyes.
– I had a lot of good times at the college, says Ilannguaq.
– You come down here and you are together with the other students. You meet new people and make friends. You also get to know and like the town. That’s why it is lovely to come back for a while and also because I love to teach. I love to tell the students all about the basic principles of cooking and about the finesses. I go into the smallest detail about why I do what I do. I try to give it all I’ve got. It’s the only way it will work.
Ilannguaq belongs to the new generation of chefs, who take pride in working with Greenlandic ingredients and who try to move the traditional perception of what Greenlandic cooking is and, not least, what it can be.
– I like to take some of the local Greenlandic dishes and change them a little, to modernise them, to give people something they think they know and yet haven’t tried before, says Ilannguaq as he finishes arranging the food.
Read the story in the magazine and see all the pictures. Page 90 – 93