From Iceland — Food for Thought

Food for Thought

Published August 15, 2008

Food for Thought
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Grapevine met with two local chefs – Hrefna Rósa Jóhannsdóttir Sætran, owner of the restaurant Fish Market on Aðalstræti, and Stefán Úlfarsson, from the family-run 3 Frakkar, on Baldursgata to sample their approach to contemporary Icelandic cuisine. Stefán also provided us with an easy five-step recipe that anyone can try for themselves at an agreeable cost.

As travel guides talk about Icelandic food in terms of putrefied shark and whale steaks, I was curious about how often Icelanders eat these dishes and whether or not these stereotypes are warranted. As a visitor, I wanted to sample something simple, current and obtainable that I could legitimately cook for myself. Everybody mentions fish and the lamb as being the fundamental quality produce. The chefs confirmed that these are indeed the main strengths of Icelandic cuisine. “Our animals are ranged and not farmed,” mentioned Stefán, while Hrefna pointed to the quality of life of lambs: “They can run around eating grass and fresh herbs”. This is a far cry from factory farming and harsh living conditions that much of the world has come to witness.
    The simplicity of using what is locally available is very important to the chefs. The international reversion back to organic produce, as championed by chefs like Jamie Oliver in the UK, is similar in helping reinforce regional identities, but in this corner of the globe a progression towards minimalism has occurred. “This has been the general Nordic movement for over three years now,” commented Hrefna. “We only use things that grow around us.”

The fish in Iceland are so palatable because of the short time they spend out of the water before being served. They tell me that freshness is a fundamental facet to modern Icelandic seafood dishes, be they cod, halibut or lobster, and that sauce is always minimal, mainly for enhancing the raw material. I also learn that cod has a lesser reputation abroad due to inferior treatment of the fish. “When you eat cod in London the likelihood is that is has been sitting around for a few days, but here it makes it to the plate a lot faster” said Stefán. Easy-access to fish is also a crucial proponent in the eyes of Stefán: “We use what is in our neighbourhood, here up north in the Atlantic”.
    Both chefs specialise in seafood and focus on modern simplicity in courses like halibut with lobster sauce, redfish with wasabi or even a mother’s favourite like hashed fish. They simultaneously retain important customary roots and keep things simple, without being plain, which in itself is creative. Stefán concluded: “We bring some of the old and new styles together and put them in a different uniform.”  

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