Since our latest series of events Náttúra by Kitchen Theory revolves around a Nordic theme – over the summer I had a simple trip around the Scandinavian/Nordic region all planned out. With research done, flights mapped out, hotel listings ready, meetings in the planning and a growing to see/do list, I was just about ready to hit the ‘go’ button and start booking. Before doing so I gave in to a niggling thought in the back of my mind telling me to check my passport expiry date.
As you would guess; it was soon coming up for renewal and with less than 2 months to go , it meant a drastic re-think to the whole plan. So long story short – I received my renewed passport and was only left with a window of about one week to travel. Where would I spend this precious one week? This brought up a lot of questions which related to the concept, and the direction it would take based on the inspiration from the trip. The answer; Iceland. Why? I mean just look at this picture taken within 5 mins of arriving in Reykjavik. There is something so stark, raw, powerful and naturally beautiful about Iceland that it just had to be where I spent that week. So two weeks later.. there I was in downtown Reykjavik.
With going into a blow by blow account of my time spent in Iceland; I thought I would take you through a quick photo tour of the moments which inspired aspects of our latest concept Náttúra by Kitchen Theory. If you’ve come across my article on the cultural concept behind this series you will understand how we came to this and in all fairness I think it is clear to see from some of these pictures why we chose mother nature in all her beauty and abundance as the theme for this series.
So first of all on my first night in town I looked up a very cool little bar which specializes in its offering of Icelandic brews on tap and over the course of my trip one by one I gave the local beers a try and was blown away by how incredibly unique they were, my favorite has to be the stout (11.5%) pictured above. Now I knew we had to have an Icelandic wheat beer as well as a darker beer on our menu. On another note Brenvin aquavit was another drink I came across and had to bring back with me to share with our guests.
Seeing the abundance of mushrooms all over Iceland (not that I trust myself enough to eat any that haven’t been properly identified as edible) really reinforced the idea that mushrooms would have to play a central role in our dish; a taste of the wild.
Sometimes it can be whole landscapes and views that trigger a flow of ideas, set the tone for a dish, or even just inspire an individual element on a dish. In many ways it is enough that just being in such beautiful surroundings affords one a certain calm and peace of mind that allows for creativity to flow freely.
At other times its about the much smaller details in nature which produce some of the most beautiful compositions which can inspire dishes.
On my journey I met inspiring Chefs including Gunnar Karl of Dill who’s first book North (which has just been released at the time of writing this article) offers an amazing insight into Icelandic cuisine and culture, not to mention it offers a picturesque view of his beautiful cuisine. His insights into the New Nordic Cuisine manifesto, Icelandic produce and producers was invaluable and led me on the path towards meeting Mr. Eyo the seaweed guy. It was my conversation with Chef Hrefna Rósa of Fish Market that really helped shape our ‘taste of the sea’ dish and inspired me to use smoked haddock (traditionally seen as a breakfast dish in the UK) in a main dish.
One of the suppliers chef Gunnar pointed me in the direction of was Mr Eyjólfur Friðgeirsson, an elderly Icelandic gentleman, whose calm Buddhist demeanor was sure to put anyone at ease. His business began with one product – Dulse seaweed (which he sells to Noma among other notable restaurants). Over time Mr Eyjólfur’s product range has grown to include Icelandic herbal teas, specialist salts (including Viking salt – a traditional Icelandic salt made by burning seaweed), berry juices, pickles, preserves and a few other treats – many of these products are being used throughout the Náttúra menu as elements and seasonings. The Icelandic moss, angelica and birch tea is used in our leek consomme, the viking salt and dulse sauce is used in our amuse bouche of pickled fish and seaweed.
Of course no trip to a foreign land would be complete without sampling the local delicacies. First of all I have to point out the little ‘shack’ pictured to the left serves what has to be one of the most amazing lobster soups (now the soup itself is good, but its really the authentic setting, down to earth service, cold weather and other factors which work to elevate the experience to an even more enjoyable level). Puffin and whale as well as several local fish all made it on to my plate at some point. I turned down the offer of rotten shark – purely based on the fact that I have yet to meet an Icelandic person let alone a foreigner who actually like or would recommend it.
Overall there is no doubt that our Náttúra by Kitchen Theory menu has been heavily influenced by not only the points mentioned above but also the time in which it was finalized. My time spent in Iceland offered a particular peace of mind and clarity of thought that enabled a far more intricately thought out menu with a level of attention to detail which I would have otherwise found difficult to attain living in the city.. and this is a principle we will now add to our growing set of principles (or manifesto if you will), I would like to think all our future menus will be finalized in such surroundings and with such mindfulness.