Published March 30, 2016
Iceland’s most famous soup: The lobster soup at the Sea Baron (Sægreifinn). It’s creamy, salty and delicious. It’s all thanks to Kjartan Halldórsson, a chef, a fisherman, an entrepreneur, but, most importantly, a legend.
Kjartan passed away in 2015.
He was a chef on board the coast guard. He quit that and wanted to open a fish store. Nobody believed in him, but he believed in himself. He started his fish store with another old guy and neither of them spoke english. There wasn’t as many tourists then in 2003.
One day some tourists came in with some fish and asked if he could cook it for them. He saw opportunity in everything. He told them to wait a few minutes. He went to the hardware store, bought himself a grill, bought some gas and grilled their fish for them. The news went out and people just kept coming to him again and again and he saw the opportunity to start selling his own fish, not cooking everyone else’s fish for free.
He used to cook it outside on the grill but the health department was not happy with that, so he moved the grill inside and changed the kitchen and it became the Sea Baron.
Step 1: Don’t ask permission. Just get a pot and start cooking
There are Three main ingredients: Lobster (langoustine) shells, Halibut skin and Salmon skin.
The Ratio is 3:1:1
That’s 3 parts lobster (langoustine) shells, 1 part Halibut skin and 1 part Salmon skin.
I’ll let Elizabet show you:
Kjartan used to walk around Sea Baron like a king. He only spoke Icelandic to the customers. In english, he could only say three things: “Thank you,” “Yes,” and “Jesus Christ”–nothing else.
I usually had to translate for him, but people liked that. He was unique and original. He wasn’t like anyone else. His charisma was magnetic.
Kjartan lived upstairs. It could be hard when he would be walking around and I’d be like “You’re in your pyjamas and we have costumers here!”
The Fire Department and the Health Department didn’t like that. They found out he was living here. In Iceland you can’t live where you work, it’s illegal. He just called his lawyer and asked his lawyer to send the Health Department and the Fire Department a letter that he was a night guard.
He had solutions for everything.
He was the kind of guy who did things first and then asked for permission. I started in 2005 and I was working here for three years when the police came and closed the place and put yellow tape all around. It was because he didn’t have permission to run a restaurant. He just opened a restaurant. That’s how he was. It took me like six months to get everything back in order, but we were open again in two weeks.
The police told him “You don’t have any permission!” And he was like “Yes I do!” And he told them to go outside and look at his permit. The only permit he had was one to skin fish. That was the only permission he had! You need a lot more than that to start a restaurant, but that’s how he was.
Step 2: Yes, Thank You and Jesus Christ. The only three things you need.
There are Three spices or seasonings: Fish bouillon, Langoustine soup mix and SECRET SPICE.
The Ratio is 1:1:1
That’s 1 part Fish bouillon, 1 part Langoustine soup mix and 1 part SECRET SPICE
I’ll let Elizabet show you:
WAIT? What’s Secret Spice? Like all good yarns involving the sea, this story has three essential parts: 1 part truth, 1 part exaggeration and 1 part fantasy. It’s up to you to make your own Secret Spice.
One day Kjartan walked in and told me he was going to build a chicken coup outside the front door. He wanted to have Icelandic hens. I told him “You can’t do it” and he was like “who says I can’t?”
I answered, “The health department, who else? Who’s going to clean up the shit? People are going to step in the shit and track it into the restaurant.”
“They can just mind their own business.”
He was going to clean it himself, but we stopped him from having chickens. It wouldn’t have worked. He was not a good cleaner. He was good at everything else, but not cleaning.
He gets his way, but he was a very loving character. He would do anything for you. He was quick to be angry and very quick to forgive. We had a lot of drunks coming in here because he was so nice to them, giving them drinks and food.
After he passed away, we’ve had to tell people, “Sorry, he’s not here anymore. You can’t have free drinks.”
His body went way before his mind. He never stopped. He never ate healthy. He never went for a healthy walk. He ate whale steak everyday and salmon. He didn’t like to eat soup. He thinks it’s boring.
We are most famous for our lobster soup and in ten years I saw him eat the soup once or twice. He didn’t like it. Whale was his favourite.
We had a wax statue made of him two years before he died. Hans Ernst Bachman makes all these wax statues at the Saga Museum. I went there with my son and afterwards I went to Kjartan and told him we should do one of him in wax and he was like “Really? When can we do it? Can we do it? Can we do it now?”
He saw the opportunity that he could always be here.
He loved it.
Hopefully we’ll just keep the Sea Baron the way it is. I promised him I wouldn’t change anything. I could add things but I had to keep things the way they were too.
I’m going to keep that promise.
Step 3: A Lasting Legacy and A Promise Kept
All you need is Three more things to make this soup: lobster(langoustine) meat, heavy cream and nice piece of toast.
The Ratio is 1:3:1
That’s 1 part heavy cream, 3 parts broth and 1 part langoustine meat and toast!
Keep the soup at a simmer and be careful not to bring to a boil.
Unfortunately, Kjartan is gone. He touched the lives of tourists, locals and fisherman. His legend lives on in stories told here.
If you want to make your own stories, grabbing some food at Sea Baron is a great place to start.
Make sure to stop in and say hi and, maybe, tell a tale of your own.