Once every four years, kitchen fires burn hotter and brighter in the Icelandic training kitchens as the Culinary Olympics draws closer. With over 2,000 chefs, teams from 59 countries, and 7,000 menus, to say that it is a whopper of a gastronomic event is putting it mildly. It is set to take place in Stuttgart, Germany, from the 15th to the 18th February 15th to 18th.
Chef Sigurjón Bragi Geirsson is at the helm of the 2020 Icelandic National Team and as a coach, he runs a tight ship. With eight professional chefs training around the clock, “The team has been training since early last year,” he confirms. This year, they have their sights set on bringing home the gold in as many categories as possible and the titular National Team award.
National Culinary Team aka Kokkalandsliðið
The Icelandic culinary team has been a steady participant bringing home awards at the Culinary Olympics. They did so for the first time in 2008—two gold medals and a silver for their first course and cold buffet respectively. They repeated their impressive performance in 2016 with chef Þráinn Freyr Sigfusson as the coach, bringing home gold for pastry and silver for other courses.
Modelled like the Olympic games, the competition is a battlefield of professional chefs measuring their skills against each other across several categories: Chef’s Table, Restaurant of Nations and Live Carving.
“We compete in two categories—Chef’s Table and Restaurant of the Nations,” explains Sigurjón. “At Chef‘s Table, we cook seven different dishes for twelve people, and in the latter, we cook a three-course meal for 110.” That is an incredible amount of food and in the past, the Icelandic culinary team has reportedly shipped about a whopping tonne of ingredients with them.
To best a gruelling competition, you are only as good as your team, as Chef Sigujón explains. “The chefs apply to be on the team and I go through the applications, and try to pick individuals that will form a strong unity with team values in mind.”
Sigurjón admits the training for the Culinary Olympics is extremely intense. “At first, the training was four days a month—that was in April, and the closer to the competition we get the more intensely we train. A few months ago we started training eight days a month and now, in the last month we trained four days a week.” He goes on to add, “We’re competing against 27 other teams and are judged for various parts, such as hygiene, food safety, flavour and presentation of the food. And last but not least consistency.”
Local traditions and skills
Cooking traditions of the home country and individual skills need to be perfectly tempered with the teams’ collective values.
Naturally, the Icelandic team is showcasing local ingredients. Without giving away much, Sigurjón says, “I can tell you that in the restaurant of a nation we use arctic char in our first course, Icelandic lamb in our main course and Icelandic skyr in our dessert.”
Besides the judges evaluating the teams, ticketed visitors also get to savour the undoubtedly delicious fare from each of the teams. This is as good a time as any to travel to Stuttgart and cheer the national team on. As Sigurjón signs off, ‘’We have competed many times and achieved good results. However, we are keen on doing better now than ever!’’
The national culinary team for the 2020 Culinary Olympics is comprised of Chefs Björn Bragi Bragason, Fanney Dóra Sigurjónsdóttir, Sigurjón Bragi Geirsson, Ísak Aron Jónsson, Ísak Darri Þorsteinsson, Jakob Zarioh S Baldvinsson, Kristin Gísli Jónsson, Sindri Guðbrandur Sigurðsson, Snorri Victor Gylfasson and Snæðís Jónsdóttir. Read more food articles here.
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