President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and First Lady Eliza Reid held a reception today at the presidential residence of Bessastaðir for the visiting chefs at the Food & Fun Festival. The President’s speech underlined the importance of Iceland’s rapidly evolving culinary culture for locals and tourists.
Afterwards, speaking exclusively to the Grapevine, Guðni said: “I remember growing up, you could count the restaurants in Reykjavík on one hand. It’s good for us locals to enjoy such this variety and choice. It’s also a vital ingredient in the positive development of the tourism industry. If you want to give those who travel to Iceland a pleasurable experience, you need to give them something good to eat, so events like Food & Fun are a part of promoting Iceland as a pleasurable destination.”
Ambition & tradition
Iceland has seen an notable uptick in the range and quality of dining options on offer, both in the capital and in the countryside. The country’s famously high-quality seafood and lamb have long been available, but there’s a sense of rising sophistication and creativity in everything from restaurant décor, to recipes, preparation, and plating.
“It’s like any other industry,” said Guðni. “If you’re ambitious and do things well, the outcome is likely to be good. It’s nice how you can tie in tradition. Here at the reception we’re offering hákarl and hardfiskur. And who knows, maybe some of the foreign chefs here will find a way to put their spin on the old staples of the Icelandic diet, and we’ll see hardfiskur á la something-or-other. As long as there’s no pineapple on pizza, I’m happy!”
The President was embroiled in an international diplomatic incident early in his Presidency when an off the cuff remark about banning pineapple on pizza delivered to an audience of schoolchildren hit the headlines internationally. Guðni issued a clarifying statement at the time, which he read out to finish his remarks.
“I do not have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza,” he said, to the highly amused audience. “I am glad I do not hold such power. Presidents should not have unlimited power. I would not want to hold this position if I could pass laws forbidding that which I don’t like. I would not want to live in such a country. For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”