From Iceland — Inside Chef Gral’s Kitchen

Inside Chef Gral’s Kitchen

Published October 19, 2023

Inside Chef Gral’s Kitchen
Photo by
Joana Fontinha

The secret ingredient is youth

“Definitely slicing,” says Gauti Einarsson when I ask what skills are most important for a newbie chef. I’ve barely finished my question when he’s already expertly sliced all the vegetables lined up on the chopping board. With a chef’s knife in hand – seeming more a wand than a tool – Gauti, or Chef Gral, is a natural. Add a soundtrack, and this could pass for an episode of Chef’s Table. But, in truth, we’re not in a high-end restaurant; we’re in Vesturbær, standing in a kitchen with a teenager who’s slicing his way through societal norms.

I got interested in cooking when I was eight years old. But I was a terrible cook back then; I made really bad food. I got back into it when I was 11, and I think that was when I started to actually make up some good recipes and cook better food.

Now I’m 15, and I just stepped back from cooking school. I already knew most of the things we were doing and it just wasn’t hard enough. I guess I’ll come back in a couple of years but now I work at Kjötkompaní and am trying to get a morning job somewhere so I can have a routine all day. 

Chef skills: streamed

Most of the things I know come from the internet. I learned mostly from people on YouTube. For example, from Chef Nick DiGiovanni, whom I’d highly recommend if you’re starting out. Joshua Weissman is also a great chef who teaches a lot of techniques that you probably won’t learn in school.

My family has been very supportive. They always let me use the kitchen when I want to. Now I have to buy my own food most of the time if I want to cook something. But when you have a job, that kind of pays off, and since I’m working at a butcher’s shop, I can just buy the meat there.

I do a lot of experiments. My most famous video, which now has about 330,000 views, is me experimenting with Wagyu, the most expensive steak in the world. I only used monosodium glutamate, or MSG, a seasoning really high in umami to cook it. It acts as a flavour enhancer that also adds umami and depth to the dish, really helping with the final notes. Most people say it doesn’t taste like anything, which I don’t think is entirely correct. If something enhances flavour, it must have a taste of its own.

“I got interested in cooking when I was eight years old. But I was a terrible cook back then.”

I was inspired by a person named Nigel Ng, also known by his stage name Uncle Roger. He’s a stand-up comedian and a cook, and one of my favourites. His favourite spice is MSG, and umami is his favourite flavour. I really wanted to combine my favourite food with his favourite flavour.

Trial by ramen

I’m pretty picky, I guess. I prefer cooking for myself because then I can choose what’s in the dish. If I’m cooking for others, most people want me to follow a recipe because that’s been tested before and sometimes making your own recipes can go bad. But most of the time, you just find more delicious flavours. 

The first time I made ramen, like real ramen – tonkotsu broth with miso paste – it took me 12 hours. I was sitting over the soup the whole time, but when I actually got to taste the final product, it tasted pretty bad. I made the noodles from scratch and they were chewy – just big chunks of noodles. Overall, it was just terrible. But I made it again recently and it turned out really good. I used store-bought noodles that time.

I can stay in the kitchen for weeks on end. Nothing is going to take too long. The most I’ve stayed in the kitchen is four days. I did an egg that took three days, just one egg, and the rest of the soup took one day. The only thing that I find annoying is taking the skin off an onion.

Local flavours

I love Icelandic cuisine. It’s one of my favourites. I really like most parts of the sheep, including the head, the tongue and everything. I have a sheep heart in the freezer right now, which I’m planning on cooking tomorrow. 

I’m really interested in the variety of Icelandic food. It is often very sour or salty. But it also has intense flavour compounds and umami you won’t find in other cultural food.

My family has a farm in the northern part of the Westfjords, and there’s a river where we go fishing for trout, arctic char and stuff like that; I caught about 40 or 50 of them this summer. That was the biggest season we’ve ever had with fish. Fishing is also one of my hobbies. I love to catch my own food, cook it and get my own spices and such, including foraging for mushrooms. My grandma and I picked a lot of arctic thyme this summer. When it comes to mushrooms, I mostly forage for furusveppir (slippery jack) – I have a lot of them and I made furusveppasósa – a creamy mushroom sauce to go with lamb tenderloin and sun-dried tomato.

If I had to choose one food to cook for the rest of my life, it would be boiled fish with potatoes and butter. That’s my comfort food. My grandma has made it for me since I was a child and it’s been my favourite food ever since I was about one year old.

“I can stay in the kitchen for weeks on end.”

Gaming to gourmet

I’ve tried content creation for a long time, or at least I have been innovative with it. When I was a kid, I was really into making random content on the internet. I played video games and streamed on Twitch. But that made me very little money, so I quit, partly because of mental health problems. Now, I feel great. It’s really fun to do it and to put myself out there. 

I don’t have specific goals for my content. My only goal is to upload more. Now I have more time to do that. I just want to have fun with it and experiment with foods I like. I made ratatouille a couple of days ago, and that was probably the most amazing vegetable dish I’ve ever made. You find so many new things through content creation and just learning about yourself. You’re going to discover so many new foods you like!

Follow the chef’s culinary adventure on Instagram: @chefgral

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