Bocuse d´or Europe 2018

I´ve been following team Iceland in the Bocuse d´or competitions since 2011 and every other year, they place top ten in the European pre-qualifying competition. 2018 was no different, and chef Bjarni Siguróli, who was the assistant chef in 2011, placed ninth to qualify for the Bocuse d´or worldwide competition taking place in Lyon 2019.

candidate Bjarni Siguroli, Sturla Birgisson, Ísak Darri the commis, and Viktor Orn coach and bronze Bocuse winner 2017

The support behind each and everyone of Iceland´s chefs since Iceland started taking part, in 1999 with Sturla Birgisson, has been nothing short of amazing. As the smallest country taking part from Europe, we have edged out 13 other European countries in every pre-competition to qualify for the Mondial competition in Lyon every other year. In the finals, we are also nothing shy of top 10, and have placed on the podium twice with a bronze Bocuse to take home.

in the heat of the competition Bocuse Europe 2018

This year, the European Bocuse took place in Torino, Italy. Placed in the heart of Piemonte, the region itself was inspiring for any foodie or wine lover. Watching Europe´s best chefs and the cutting edge of haute cuisine on display for two days was motivating for anyone that took the time to watch – and thousands of people did just that.

beach day in Geneva

[Surrounding the competition is also a food, wine and kitchen expo – I went wine tasting from Hungary to Russia and tried all the newest technology to make the best ice cream or freshest espresso. I also made a small weekend trip out of the journey – there aren´t direct flights from Keflavik to Torino so I flew in through Geneva and out through London.

perfect timing to hit on the street food festival in Geneva

Both were worth it for different reasons – it was my first time in Geneva and I met three amazing couchsurfers and, by chance, two Icelanders that happened to be there the same day. I went to the beach, which I didn´t believe was actually a thing until I sat suntanning beside Lac Léman, looking across the lake to France. I drove through Mount Blanc to get to Italy, and flew home through London to pick up a new passport… I think its my tenth, and I´m never quite sure how many years until it fills up too, since I´ve only had two out of nine make it to their expiration date.

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ÓX, the newest foodie hotspot in Reykjavik

The food scene in Iceland, especially Reykjavik, has literally exploded in the last eight to ten years. Since moving back to Reykjavik in 2008, I´ve first-handedly watched this little village of a city turn itself around from economic meltdown and exploit the infamous Eyjafjallajökull to its touristic benefit. We´ve turned the crises of other exploding volcanoes, incredible football victory in the European Championship, and more recently, the World Cup, into international fame, since all publicity is good publicity.

ÓX, the smallest restaurant in Reykjavik with only 11 seats

All corners of Iceland are explored now, all year round, meaning hotels are full in January and no more secret hotpots in the middle of nowhere are left untouched. While this comes with a small price to pay for us locals, I don´t know if I´d give it up for all the good tourism has done for us. Roads, historical buildings, deserted farms and countryside hotels are being fixed and built up at such a rate that our employment rates are virtually non-existent. With that comes a lot of employees from Europe and elsewhere, and every little piece of this puzzle is helping the culinary scene in Reykjavik grow up into a delicious food fare.

little bits of flavour explosion

ÓX is the newest addition, and already calling its own name to fame by being the smallest restaurant in Reykjavík. The publicity there is a bit special – the website gives no address, and even though you can now find a puddle of hot water big enough for two in the middle of a field off an unnamed road with a GPS point on google maps, ÓX isn´t findable. It´s a speakeasy kind of place, a back door secret entry through its sister restaurant, which guests only get directions to once they´ve booked one of the 11 seats for dinner.

Hafsteinn serving me from the chef´s table

There´s only one seating per night, starting at 19:00, open three nights a week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday), and you book a seat much like you´d book a ticket for the theatre. You enter the space, alone or plus one or two or ten, and become dazzled with the food, chefs, and cosy space over the next 3+ hours. There’s one price per person, 12-13 courses with drink pairings, for a little over €200, with vegetarian friendly and non-alcoholic pairings as an option.

the craft housebrew, amber rye beer, made in collaboration with @ladybrewery

I finally got to dine at ÓX two and a half months after its opening, and it´s not worth waiting that long. If every Icelander tried to eat at this restaurant, it would take 203 years for everyone to get a reservation with a capacity of only 1,716 guests per year. Rumors have it they may start opening Wednesday nights too, but why wait to wind up your senses and start your journey at ÓX? As the website explains, its time to “set foot on a mountain of senses, dive into an ocean of discovery; Iceland is your playground, consume your exploration.”

Bike Training in Provence

Provence is a place where the name alone triggers the smell of lavender and dreams of endless vineyards. I’d never been there before, but thats exactly what it was, plus some. There were meadows of red poppies as far as the eye could see, olive trees and strawberry fields, and picturesque villages on hill tops seemingly unchanged for hundreds of years.

Vines, poppies and an olive tree

I stayed between Carpentras and Pernes-les-Fontaines, visiting nearby Avignon, Monteux and Blauvac to name a few. Dinners included red wines from nearby Chateuneuf-du-Pape and freshly picked, local asparagus and artichokes. I stayed with 23 amazing individuals in our own Chateau, with a courtyard fit for a regal wedding, and we were all given performance street bikes that weighed less than my right arm to use as transport.

Practicing my French Duck face

During the days, we had a combination of hard and “soft” skills training, everything from bike mechanics to public speaking. We were on our way to become tour Leaders, not guides, since “leaders” implies we also have co-leaders and teamwork skills. We had to learn to be interested, not only interesting, and speak about our regions and activities with passion that couldn’t be staged. We learned how to use an intraweb interface that takes me back to the days of the internet in 1999 – its extremely mind boggling to filter through html links, url sites that cant be reached, tens of thousands of pages of information, and other trip resources without google.

My training group, aka Missy Elliot

Our group was mainly European, plus a few dual citizen North Americans, and about two-thirds female. Everyone spoke two or more languages, and the collective travel experience and skills in that group made all of us feel individually inadequate. I made some lasting friendships, and others I’ll never see again, and two of us didn’t even make it thru training and returned home with an abrupt end to their Backroads career.

Just another picture perfect Provence town

It’s funny how France keeps calling me back; first, a spontaneous backpacking trip in Bretagne over New Years, and now, the opportunity to get paid to learn about bikes and cycling in Provence. I thank Backroads for the opportunity, and can’t believe I’ve started making money while traveling to new places in my favourite countries.