Getting to Know Greenland: Meet Chef Ilannguaq Hegelund
By: Jodi Westrick
Contributed by David Casey
Two summers ago, I took a cast and crew of 26 above Nuuk (the capital) to a secluded island in the biggest fjord system in the world. It's amazing, dangerous, and beautiful.
We'd come to expect 24-hour sunlight, aurora borealis, and the most impressive scale in the world.
What we didn't plan on was being fed by one of the best young chefs I've ever met, Ilannguaq Hegelund. Our base camp was made of two-by-fours, plywood and a 40 kilowatt generator, yet he put together some amazing dishes made from only Greenlandic ingredients, including Reindeer, Arctic Char, Red Fish, and Salmon every night. We used Angelika, thyme, and crowberries, which the whole crew helped harvest. You can’t hunt or fish on a mining permit, so everything was purchased from local hunters and fishermen.
Currently, Ilannguaq Hegelund is a chef at the restaurant Sarfalik located at the four star Hotel Hans Egede in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. Besides working in high-end restaurants and hotels, he has worked summers on fishing boats and mining camps of all size. He recently won Greenland’s Chef of the Year award in 2013.
Hegelund has worked with Sixty Degree Resources as a chef for the last two summers.
1.) Could you tell us where you're from and what your childhood was like?
I am 24 years old and was born in Paamiut, a small town south of Nuuk. My family moved to Denmark when I was four, so my mother could pursue a higher education.
My fondest memories of my childhood in Denmark are playing in the mountains, sailing, fishing, hunting, and eating our freshly caught fish. We used to pick berries and gather herbs in the summertime in the mountains. In the winter, snow was of course, the highlight. It was easy to adjust to life in Denmark and I had a lot of friends. I quickly forgot the Greenlandic language, though I knew I was a Greenlander at heart.
We moved back to Greenland when I was 14. It was a strange but wonderful transition. The town where we lived in Denmark for 10 years had the same population as the entire country of Greenland! Needless to say, it was a huge culture shock. I had to learn Greenlandic again and was determined to do so, and it came quickly.
2.) How did you become interested in food? Tell us about your training as a chef.
My passion for cooking started as a child, unbeknownst to me, where I spent the weekends making fried eggs for my siblings. During my teens I worked in a snack bar and even then I wanted to deliver a good product even if it was not the most luxurious food. But, I had to start somewhere.
A school internship in a professional kitchen got me hooked on cooking. After my two-week trial, I was offered to come and learn there after I finished school even though I still had a year of classes left. The offer I could not refuse and of course said yes.
I don’t regret that I chose cooking as my path at such a young age, although it was very hard. A normal working day for a chef on average is 10-12 hours per day. But I have grown and developed. My experience has only given me more courage in life. Your future is bright when you are passionate about that you do.
3.) As a Greenlander and as a chef, what does it mean to you to be sustainable in your work and food?
Here in Greenland we are fortunate that we have super fresh ingredients right in our backyard. Some of the most delicious fish and marine mammals are from Greenland. They are 100% organic and each catch is sustainable.
We are also very skilled to use all parts of each animal we catch, and never catch more than we can eat. Since we've always been that way, there should be enough for the next generation too.
4.) What are your favorite Greenlandic meats to cook?
I do not have a single favorite animal to cook or eat. But in all, I love reindeer, muskox and fresh fish.
5.) We talked a great deal about the many changes happening in Greenland. You are part of a young generation that has seen such a vast degree of cultural shifts and changes. Could you tell us what you think the future holds for you and your generation of Greenlanders?
My generation has an exciting time ahead of us. So much is happening on the front at the moment. A new government came to power and recently broke the zero tolerance law for uranium mining. A lot of foreign companies have entered the country and I hope our politicians are thinking very carefully, and make a law that will benefit us Greenlanders as much as possible. Greenlanders are also very focused on maintaining our culture and traditions.
6.) What role does the traditional hunting and fishing culture play in your life?
I am inspired by the stories from the elder whale hunters and fisherman. They lived a tougher and rougher life when there weren’t any machines, and most work was done by hand. I really respect the people who survived by hunting and fishing and lived independently, without relying on technology. Their stories are always have a lot to tell about experiences or about the weather.
7.) You have worked with Sixty Degree Resources for two straight summers. What has been your favorite base camp experience?
Working with Sixty Degree Resources has been eye opening. I've learned a lot about rocks and minerals and realized how much potential there is in the ground here in Greenland. The people from Sixty Degree Resources are great and I love working with them. But it's also very hard both mentally and physically. You are on the job 24 hours a day.
8.) Have you worked with other mining camps in Greenland?
I worked on an open diamond mine and on a drilling camp for rare earth elements. Last summer I was also on a copper and zinc drilling camp.
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