At the risk of generalisation, I’ll just say it: criticism is generally frowned upon in Iceland, and avoiding confrontation is quite commonplace. But a trio of bad boy chefs, Karl Óskar Smárason, Knútur Hreiðarsson and Markús Ingi Guðnason are stirring up trouble at Le Kock by shaking up the old order. Their “burger and fries offer of the last century” is a not-so-subtle dig at Hamborgarabúllan’s offer of the century, and social media confessions of being football haters came on the heels of Iceland’s recent sporting victory.
Alma maters of Matur og Drykkur, under the tutelage of Gisli Matthias Auðunsson, the seasoned chefs hung up their white coats to open the cheekily named Le Kock earlier this year. The name alone has caught the public’s fancy—although their much-talked about burgers and doughnuts have as well.
The menu at Le Kock is an homage to Icelandic childhood nostalgia combined with an American vibe. Cheeseburgers jostle for space with whoopie pies and Surmjölk and Cheerio doughnuts. Markus grew up in the United States, which explains the American influence.
But why Le Kock? “The story behind the name?’” laughs Markús. “That was all Knútur. He came up with the name. There were a lot of different reasons. It represents us as chefs. We are ruthless. We are giving the middle finger to the restaurant industry.”
That brazen attitude isn’t just all talk however. Le Kock takes pride in its gourmet approach to fast food. The condiments, burger fixin’s and even the ketchup are all made in-house, from scratch. The bread is baked every day and the doughnuts are made of deep fried yeasted dough. “Everyone’s scared to do it here,” says Markús. “Everyone’s too formal and trying to please everyone. And no one is stepping out of the box.’’
Gourmet fast food
But isn’t gourmet fast food an oxymoron? “We all come from fine dining experience,” says Markus. “The thing about fine dining chefs is I don’t think they actually like doing it. We actually like to cook and eat this food. No one is doing gourmet fast food in Iceland. We saw it as an opportunity to do it. To just go for it.”
What about the too many cooks adage—could the kitchen handle all of them together? Markus shakes his head. “Being three chefs we are able to do it ourselves, or teach people how to do it. We just don’t want to buy anything. We are chefs and we want to do it ourselves. Knútur is the creative one, Kalli is the workhorse with the organizational skills, and I’m the baker. I take Knútur’s ideas and work them out.”
Popular in the USA, and inspired by Martin’s rolls, potato bread rolls at Le Kock are a departure from the more typical brioche buns. The addition of potatoes makes for a lighter, springier crumb that doesn’t disintegrate in the juice from the burger patty, and holds its own right down to the last bite. So if you’ve been wondering why their burgers taste so good, it starts with the buns.
In a short time, Le Kock has managed to whip up a deserved frenzy for their fare. Lunch lines are common, and their doughnuts sell out out before the end of the day. The cheeseburgers are a classic riff, and we recommend pairing it with the Greek fries. And don’t forget to grab a box of assorted doughnuts on your way out.