Chef Geir Kilen’s portfolio boasts a number of awards and accolades including a Silver Medal in the U.S. Chefs Open in 1991, the highest banquet guest, comment card score among all Hilton hotels in the continental U.S., beating world-famous properties such as the Waldorf Astoria and Beverly Hilton. Before arriving in the United States, Chef Kilen received a culinary degree from The Culinary Institute in his hometown of Kristiansand, Norway, in addition to a certification in Business Management from Kristiansand Handels Skole. He served his military duty as the only culinary-trained member on board Sklinna, a submarine in the Norwegian Royal Navy.
Chef Kilen has over 35 years of culinary experience and extensive four-star hotel knowledge. He is known for his wealth of expertise and fine dining insight into cutting-edge cuisine. Now a Chef Instructor at Culinard, The Culinary Institute of Virginia College in Savannah Georgia, Chef Kilen enjoys giving back to the next generation of chefs.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the culinary arts?
According to my mother, as a little child, I had drawn a picture of myself standing on top of a hotel, and although I don’t remember this, supposedly I had explained to her that it was “my hotel”. She explained that if I was going to become a hotel owner, I would have to learn how to do all the jobs in the hotel. As she rattled of all the various positions, I guess “chef” stayed with me. The funny thing is, when I grew older and my friends and classmates discussed what schools they should attend, there was no doubt for me. My course had already been plotted. I attended two years in culinary school in Kristiansand, Norway, and then a year and a half in apprenticeship at Hotel Norge, also in Kristiansand, Norway.
Is there an instructor from your own education that stands out in your memory?
My primary hands-on teacher’s name was Ålve Mikaelsen. A little scattered and stressed, but so very passionate about cooking and our industry. But my English teacher, Mrs. Harket –she was Morten Harket’s Aunt (the 80’s band, A-ha’s band leader and singer). That has of course nothing to do with my culinary career, but it was a BIG DEAL to us back then!
What do you love most about being an educator with Culinard?
To be a culinary teacher is the ultimate job for a chef. That I am able to share both knowledge and information with my students, and am able to engage them and keep them interested and tuned in by divulging my real-life stories of both positive and negative experiences, is a privilege. I have pondered this many times before and not too long ago, came up with an analogy: It’s like Valhalla (Viking heaven – in Norse mythology)!
What’s a typical day at the Savannah Culinard campus?
We start up the day with a “TIRAMISU”. That’s MY version of a bell ringer. I thought it’s more appropriate as it means “pick me up” in Italian. Aside of the current curriculum, I focus a lot on culinary math. Some dislike it in the beginning, but after a few weeks, they gradually realize that it is ESSENTIAL, as I also tell them on day one: “I will not teach you to become a pot stirrer. I will give you the knowledge you need to become a CHEF!” We fill the classroom time with action, drama and laughter. We also discuss the day’s recipes. I have the sous chef for the day take charge of the computer and have him or her pick a student to read each recipe. During this process, I will be amongst my students and constantly interrupt and ask random questions such as “what does that mean?” to keep them alert and on their toes. Some recipes require clarification or additional tips from REAL life, and those stories seem to be well received. After an hour or so, I let them have a six-minute break, and then we hit the “galley” (yes I have lots of ship phrases and stories I share with them as I served my military duty on KNM Sklinna, a Norwegian submarine, and did my culinary school’s version of real-world experience for three weeks on a huge ferry between Denmark and Norway, and lastly, my job on Sunward II for Norwegian Cruise Line back in the mid-80s). I bounce back and forth between my students and guide them the best I can. Ideal class size is 6-10 to give the most attention and yet allow them enough leash to work independently. Something I encourage heavily. I make them think for themselves, do their own research, make some mistakes and learn from them.
Best piece of advice you give your students:
“Piece of advice”? As in only ONE? No, here is a handful:
Aim high. Don’t limit yourself. Have an open mind. Take calculated risks. Take the BEST from all the chefs you will be working with and form your OWN style. Be humble. Be fast, yet accurate. Your mental state is ALSO a part of your mise en place, so get the required sleep before a big day. Don’t tell people how good you are — SHOW them! DREAM AND CREATE!
What is one of your proudest moments to date?
Perhaps when I won Silver Medal in the U.S. Chefs Open? Or the day I opened my Caribbean-fusion restaurant in the suburbs of Atlanta? Or when I hosted the James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner at Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah? Not sure, but they all means a lot to me and who I am today.
How would you describe your cooking philosophy in five words or less?
Have FUN cooking! Own it!
What was the last dish you cooked at home?
The last dinner I cooked for my wife and some friends was Sous Vide Chicken Napa Valley with scallion beurre blanc, tasso and ramp couscous accompanied with soy and EVO marinated grilled asparagus. A blend of many diverse cultures, in perfect harmony! My wife gave me a sous vide circulator for Christmas and I love that tool! First, I marinated and grilled the chicken breasts, then sous vide cooked them with a little of the marinade in the vacuum bag at 145 degrees for four hours. It was AMAZING! So incredibly juicy! I am salivating just thinking about it