Per Theodor Tørrissen and his Arctic food challenge

I have always been fascinated by people. Those people who you rarely see in the limelight but who have a strong vision and drive and do amazing things for their community to inspire and make things move in the right direction.  Some of them even manage to reach wider. One of those is Per.

Who is Per Theodor Tørrissen?

Per Theodor Tørrissen was born and raised in Mosjøen, North Norway. During his 20 years as a chef he has worked in a number of different restaurants. As a part of his education he studied food and food culture at the University college of Nesna. Through a number of projects and positions, he has worked closely with local producers throughout the region. He is currently employed at MosjøenUpper Secondary school as a chef and project manager for ArktiskMat, the annual Arctic food festival.

Per Theodor Tørrissen. Photo: Lovise M Steinrud

How did you start your career and and what are you busy with now?

I am still cooking, although I’m more involved in other aspects of food communication. I started as a chef 20 years ago. After my education I moved to Trondheim (Norway’s 3 biggest city) and worked at different restaurants there, for almost 10 years. I met my wife (Hege) there and after we got our second child, we decided it was time to move closer to my family. So I moved back to my hometown Mosjøen, with my wife and kids. There I started to work in the school system, first as a chef at the agricultural school. While I was working, I started to educate myself in food culture and food systems. Learning more about food, besides the actual cooking, me and fellow colleague of mine decided we would start a “farm to table” course at our school. The agenda was to teach our agricultural students more about conservation and cooking techniques, giving them a deeper understanding of the potential of the “simple ingredient” they produce on the farm. Not unlike the insight I myself got as a chef, learning more about the origins and traditions connected to the meals I was preparing, while doing my studies.

I still teach and I still work as a chef at the school. Besides that I do pop up cooking at different events and cook for the North Norwegian EU office in Brussels, when they have events.  Together with my wife and a couple of others, I was involved in a company called Matkollektivet I Vikgården (The food collective Vikgården). We are not involved there anymore as co-owners but, but I still work closely with Marianne and Per Einar who own the facility and they are very much involved in ArktiskMat. (Check out their Instagram: @vikgarden )

Besides that, we have for some years been working with a school project.

Photo: Lovise M Steinrud

The idea was to start an educational program for people in the food industry. Something like a higher education for chefs and food producers. In Norway we call it “Fagskole”.  

We have done a lot of work to get it through the political system and about a year ago, we finally got all the approval and funding we need to build a curriculum.

The education is called Sustainable Food Experiences (it sounds a lot better in Norwegian..)

The task was to build a curriculum that has a focus on how we in the future can be better equipped to meet challenges, connected to the way we produce our food. Also to give chefs and food producers tools to navigate and make decisions based on knowledge, and to create great experiences based on good morals and ethics.

The study will be national and one of a kind in Norway. We have just sent over the curriculum to the authorities for their approval and hopefully we’ll be up and running in a year or two.

How was born the idea of the ArktiskMat?

In 2012 i was working as a Food Contact in our County (I was in charge of arranging courses and creative meeting places for producers and chefs in our region). I was to do an “inspirational workshop” for a couple of days at a remote Island of the coast of my region. I was lucky to have 2 people, which later would be of great inspiration to me and my work, with me on that trip. Those people were Magnus Nilsson and Roderick Sloan. I have never met them before, but during those days I talked a lot with Roderick about education and challenges with the recruitment to the food industry. I later learned that Roddie had an enormous network within the industry. Back home I was involved in another project, which among other things were trying to rebuild a local food festival. I thought back on the discussions I had with Roddie, and suggested that we should change the focus from a traditional food-fair, which there are a lot of, to a more competence driven food event.

Paul Cunningham and Pierre Koffmann. Photo: Lovise M Steinrud

I contacted Roddie again and he was immediately on board and through him, we had access to some great international food profiles. The first year it was run by a local event company (which organized the original food festival). After year one, the school (which I worked at) took over the whole project and now the school is running the event. This is one of the things that makes it unique, it is an International Food Event, run by a small upper secondary school. The first couple of years, we had mostly locals attending the event and the school’s culinary and agricultural students were hosts and helping out with the cooking. After a few year’s we had reached a national public as well and in the last years we have had people traveling from the US, Australia, Denmark and Sweden to attend. We now feel that we have found our way of organizing it, however we do small changes each year. Each year has it’s own theme. We do one day when chefs of Michelin starred restaurants and food experts function as teachers at the culinary school. Two days of talks and dinners, where the students still function as hosts and help out in the kitchens. We now have expanded the involvement of the students, we have students that study communication and English as well as music students performing for our guests. We like to use the beautiful landscape and wood buildings in our small town, for the talks and dinners. That means that we have a limited amount of guests, just enough so that everyone can truly interact and friendships and networks can be established. Last year we were nominated for 3 awards. The World Restaurant Awards (longlist), Embla Awards (A Nordic foodaward) and Matprisen (The Foodaward, which is a Norwegian award).

And the goals?

Our goal is to achieve awareness around our resources and a sustainable approach to them. Also, to raise the level of competence and knowledge among the youth, and contribute to increase the recruitment to the world of food and food production. 

ArktiskMat is taking place in Mosjøen every September. This year will share his passion and knowledge with the local community and guests also Alberto Landgraf from Oteque in Rio de Janeiro.

Andreja Lajh

Photo: Lovise M Steinrud
Photo: Lovise M Steinrud

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