Earlier this month, I was invited to travel to Reykjavik with Capital Cooking who participated in this year’s Food + Fun event. This event is “an international gastronomical festival which combines outstanding culinary skills, fresh natural ingredients, Icelandic outdoor adventure and the world-famous Reykjavik nightlife to create the ultimate recipe for fun.” (http://www.foodandfun.is). It also promotes the new Nordic style cuisine – using traditional food products that are seasonal and locally grown in the northern hemisphere.
A few of the judges hailed from D.C., including Jeff Buben (chef and owner of Vidalia and Bistro Bis), Jeff Tunks (executive chef at DC Coast, TenPenh, Ceiba, + Acadiana) + Lauren DeSantis (Capital Cooking).
A total of 17 chefs from around the world participated in the event: Andreas Andersen (Swedish sous-chef at one of Oslo’s finest restaurants, Carls Kjökken), Bengt Sjöström (one of Sweden’s most distinguished chefs), Brant Tesky (head chef at Acadiana in D.C.), Bruno Doucet (owner + chef du cuisine at restaurant La Regalade in France), Celina Tio (chef at Julian in Kansas City), Chris Parsons (one of the best known chefs in the Massachussets area + owner of the acknowlegded restaurant Catch), Claus Hendriksen (runs the restaurant Dragsholm in Slot, south of Coppenhagen), Dak Laddaporn Wichangoen (sous-chef at one of Denmark’s finest fusion restaurants), David Britton (chef’s assistant on the highly rated Food Network show Dinner Impossible + chef de cuisine at Chef’s Michael Ginor’s award winning restaurant Lola Restaurant in Great Neck, New York), Even Ramsvik (chef from Norway), John Mooney (owner of Bell Book + Candle Restaurant in Greenwich Village, Manhattan), Kaz Okochi (one of Washington’s top sushi chefs + owner of the highly acclaimed Kaz, Sushi Bistro), Luigi Pomata (Italian chef + owner of Ristorante Luigi Pomata on island of Sardinia), Paul Stearman (head chef at restaurant Marcel’s in D.C.), Sushi master Sae Yamaoka + Sake master Natsuki Kikuya (of London’s most popular restaurants, Zuma), + Matti Jämsen (Nordic chef from Finland).
Participating Icelandic restaurants in the event included Brasserie Grand, Dill, Einar Ben, Fiskfélagið, Fishmarket, The Restaurant Gallery, The Grill, La-Primavera, LAVA Restaurant at Blue Lagoon, Nautholl, Nineteenth, The Pearl, Silfur, Seafood Cellar, Við Tjörnina, + VOX Restaurant.
Each restaurant hosted one guest chef and, with the chefs at the restaurant, created a menu together which is then later reviewed by the judges. We got to either visit, film, or eat at 10 of the 16 participating restaurants.
We never had a dull moment with so much to see and do on our trip!
DAY 1 – our Icelandic adventure begins!
>>Keflavik International Airport
>>We arrive safely around 6am and await our shuttle.
>>This sculpture is outside the airport…I’m not sure what to make of it…subtle tribute to Captain Hook or alien space egg hatching a robot…you decide.
>>View from the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica.
>>Our first stop on a scenic tour – Gullfoss, or “Golden Falls,” is by far Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Seeing it in the winter time in a half-frozen state doesn’t do it justice after looking at photos online.
>>Located in Haukadalur (one of three valleys in Iceland), lives the most active of all gysers in Iceland, called Strokkur, which erupts, more or less, every five minutes.
>>I’ve never seen a gyser and this was pretty cool to watch.
>>The gangs all here!
>>The Mid-Atlantic Ridge – this divergent boundary cuts through Iceland and is where the North American Plate + Eurasian Plate are pulling away from each other.
>>Our itinerary stated that we’d be having lunch at a “special cabin” that afternoon after our sight-seeing adventure in sub-arctic temperatures (I was not prepared for how cold is was going to be!). Our driver that day (a local photographer who told us to call him Elvis), had heard of, but had never been to this exclusive/hidden resort that apparently is only rented out to the rich + famous. The owner, a gentleman who refused an interview with us, was very hospitable and had an interesting hobby of killing possibly every animal native to Africa + other such places, stuffing it, and either mounting it respectfully on the wall or creating more of a still life scenario.
>>Lunch at the cabin was prepared for everyone by Icelandic chefs. Horse meat was one of the dishes among the mix. I didn’t find out what it was until after I ate it otherwise would have probably avoided it, but I can’t say it wasn’t tasty!
>>I noticed these containers being used as a serving dish at a few different places. Pretty cute idea.
>>Siggi (left), who is in charge of the annual Food + Fun event and owner of the “special cabin” (right), who claimed all his hunts were legal, by the way.
>>The first restaurant we visited on the trip was called The Gallery at Hotel Holt.
>>Paul Stearman of D.C.’s Marcel’s restaurant is the visiting chef at The Gallery and we film Lauren interviewing him about the menu he created for the event. We also asked the young man shown in the picture if he believed in elves, which a lot of natives, if not all of them, do. We didn’t believe the myth, but this guy wasn’t denying it.
>>Lauren + Paul talked to some of the guests that evening, asking them what they thought of his creations (traditional french cuisine meets new nordic…it certainly looked good!)
>>The Gallery @ Hotel Holt
>>Lauren with 2 judges and 2 chefs at La Primavera Ristorante.
DAY 2 – blue lagoon, the President + more restaurants & food!
>>Ahh, the Blue Lagoon. Soaking in the mineral rich, warm waters of this geothermal spa was my favorite part of the trip!
>>LAVA restaurant at the Blue Lagoon spa.
>>We were all invited to the meet the Icelandic President, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, and his lovely wife, Dorrit Moussaieff at their historic residence.
DAY 3 – final judging, winner announcement + exploring the town!
>>The judges tasting the last round of dishes before making their final decision.
>>The unique 1st, 2nd, + 3rd place trophies.
>>A few of the dishes served during the final competition.
>>Winner – Matti Jämsen of Finland!
>>We had some free time after the competition ended to explore downtown Reykjavik. As we were walking past a restaurant called Fishmarket, we were asked by the staff. first of all, if we were tourists and, secondly, if we would like to try their food. Turns out there was a German television show filming inside. They asked us to try lamb brain (gross!) which Lauren, Corey + Nick ate while I kept my distance and took photos. The TV crew and restaurant servers were very impressed that these Americans did not even hesitate eating their lamb brain. To further try to make them regret their decision to eat it, one server brought out the lamb’s head from which they took the brain!
>>I wasn’t going to post this photo, but I just had to for effect! Don’t worry, it gets worse.
>>Next, they ask us if anyone would eat the eyeball! Nick (who films the Lauren’s show) volunteered, I guess because he’s crazy like that or wants to be on German TV, who knows. So this woman cuts out the eyeball from this dead lamb head and hands it over to Nick who just pops it in his mouth and proceeds to chew like it’s a piece of gum. The German camera man who’s filming this nearly gags and everyone else is cringing. I’m sure the people at the restaurant are just thinking to themselves, “what else can we get these American to eat?” At least Nick chased his eyeball with a shot of Brennivín schanpps!
>>We stopped for what we heard was the best crab soup in town. Not so much the best I’ve ever had, but it hit the spot after walking around in the cold.
>>It was neat being able to see the volcanoes in the distance.
>>We stopped at a new restaurant called The Laundry Mat to have dinner after souvenir shopping. It really had washers and dryers downstairs as well as boardgames. Cool place.
>>And that, my friends, was my Icelandic adventure (and the longest blog post everrr)! I would definitely visit Iceland again during the summer. I feel like it would be a whole different experience in warmer weather. Hopefully I will get to join Capital Cooking on another trip abroad to discover more amazing culture + cuisine!