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.

Paris, je t’aime

My first visit to Paris was in 2007, and I was mostly chasing a cute Parisian guy I had met in Fiji. I don’t know if it was his kiss under the Eiffel tower or just Paris in general that had me smitten, but my infatuation with this city of love had begun. Obviously it didn’t work out with the Parisian, but my love affair with Paris is still ongoing. I returned only a few months later to study the piano at a music school Chopin once taught at, which was very appropriate for me, someone only learning Chopin’s nocturnes.

The Eiffel Tower in the backround from one of the many Seine bridges

The Eiffel Tower in the backround from one of the many Seine bridges

Now, 10 years later and another 5 visits under my belt, I’m still infatuated. It changes every visit; the season, the food, and the people I meet are different every time, and I think only a lifetime in Paris would be sufficient to experience it all. I never tire of the endless parks, museums and cafes. Staring at the sparkling Eiffel tower at night or just checking out any old residential building is like glimpsing a piece of history and an architectural wonder. I crave for crepes and paninis, and more recently, I discovered the French Taco.

Hotel de Ville + bicycle + musical carousel = Paris in a nutshell

Hotel de Ville + bicycle + musical carousel = Paris in a nutshell

This trip was an exceptionally wonderful visit; it was just a short weekend trip, but 9 other Icelanders were also in town. And we had reason to celebrate. Our friend and one of the worlds top chefs had just won third place in the Bocuse d’or competition in Lyon, so after filling our stomachs with foie gras and wine in the gastronomical capital of France, we now had Paris to toast our champagne glasses, with Bocuse de bronze at our side.

Viktor Orn and Yannick Alleno with Mr. Bronze

Viktor Orn and Yannick Alleno with Mr. Bronze

Paris has over 15,000 restaurants, and more Michelin stars than any other city. We chose a 3 Star restaurant, as you do, and wined and dined at Yannick Alleno’s mansion Pavillon Ledoyen. It was the most amazing, and perhaps expensive, meal of my life, and even after 15 courses, I had to keep tasting everything they offered. After rolling out of there and swearing I’d still be full the next day, the next day came and there were mussels, oysters and escargot to be eaten.

can't get enough macaron's either, especially inside a chocolate piano

can’t get enough macaron’s either, especially inside a chocolate piano

Even when I thought I was finally satiated of French food, then I realized that Paris is full of so much more. The last meal I had was Japanese udon, a kind of casual fast food joint, but lined up out of the door and an easy 100 euros for two to dine. I also discovered an underground scene of speakeasy bars, like Candelaria – a bar you have to enter thru the back door of a taco shop. I learned that the Moulin Rouge neighbourhood is open later than most other night life, and the sex shops must be 24 hrs. How I know that isn’t the point of this story. The point is there’s always something new about Paris to love.

Iceland wins Bocuse de Bronze 2017

Iceland has been competing in the prestigious cooking competition Bocuse d’or since 1999. For chefs, this is like making it to the culinary Olympics. Iceland has always qualified in the regional Bocuse d’or Europe to compete in the worldwide Bocuse d’or, and never placed lower than the top 9 countries in each competition. In 2001, chef Hakon Mar was the first to land on the podium, with a third place Bronze, an extraordinary accomplishment for a tiny nation, often overlooked as a foody place, like Iceland.

Bocuse de Bronze winners!!

Bocuse de Bronze winners!!

Since then, a lot has changed. Scandinavian countries have become fashionable leaders in Europe’s culinary scene, and Iceland has finally become a world-renowned tourist destination, not only for nature tourism, but for also for gourmandes. The competition has also changed, becoming much bigger, better and far more complicated to win each year. The level of cooking in 2017 would have shunned the first podium winners with their abilities in 1987.

Bocuse d'or Team Iceland setting up their box

Bocuse d’or Team Iceland setting up their box

It takes one year to prepare for the regional competition (there are 3 regions: Latin America, Europe, and Asia), and another year for the top qualifiers (plus a few additional wild card countries) to compete at the biennial Bocuse d’or Concours Mondial in Lyon. Its named after Paul Bocuse, one of France’s most famous chefs and a leader in fine dining history.

The French commis looking back

The French commis looking back

This year, Iceland had over 150 supporters follow the candidat Viktor Orn to Lyon. After winning 5th place in the Bocuse Europe competition, and having 4 other previous candidates supporting and trainng him, he also had an amazing coach, Sigurdur Helgason, and a commis that would have definitely won Best Commis if they hadn’t landed on the podium.

Selfies with all the famous chefs (clockwise from top left: Bocuse d'or Gold 2015 Norwegian Orjan; Bocuse Europe 2016 winner Hungarian Tomas; 3 time Bocuse podium placer Danish Rasmus, and the USA Bocuse team coach Thomas Keller

Selfies with all the famous chefs (clockwise from top left: Bocuse d’or Gold 2015 Norwegian Orjan; Bocuse Europe 2016 winner Hungarian Tomas; 3 time Bocuse podium placer Danish Rasmus, and the USA Bocuse team coach Thomas Keller

The French team had the best commis, and European winner Hungary placed 4th just after Iceland. In second place was Norway, and for the first time ever, the USA won gold. All the winners went to Paul Bocuse’s restaurant for breakfast after the competition and met the now 91 year old legend himself. Viktor’s name has been permanently engraved in a shiny plaque, a walk of fame for all the winners of Bocuse d’or since 1987. Now with 2 Icelanders having mastered the competition, its only up from here. Despite being a nation of only 300,000 with a handful of good restaurants, its amazing to think that we could easily be shaping the next silver or gold Bocuse d’or candidate. Stay tuned til 2019!

Iceland places 5th in the Bocuse d’Or European Selection

If you’re into food and cooking and restauranteering, you’ve probably heard of the competition Bocuse d’Or. It’s namesake, Paul Bocuse, is a super famous and savvy French chef who’s had 3 Michelin stars at his restaurant just outside of Lyon for over 50 years straight. He brought French cuisine and French chefs to the forefront of fine dining and international gastronomy, and created the Bocuse d’Or competition in 1987. It’s a 2 day compeition that happens every year, first every two years on a regional level (Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Europe), then every alternating year, the ‘worlds’, some sort of a cooking Olympics (which includes the winners from each region, plus Canada, the USA, and Morocco, and 2 ‘wild card’ invited countries). In the end of each Bocuse season, you have 24 nations in Lyon every other year competing for the Bocuse d’Or.

Coach Siggi Helga supporting Viktor during the competition, while the stands behing fill with screaming fans

Coach Siggi Helga and Icelandic Bocuse president Sturla supporting Viktor during the competition, while the stands behind fill with screaming fans

Iceland’s best placing was 3rd, winning the Bocuse d’argent. Silver, Bronze and Gold mark the podium winners, and there’s even one crazy Danish guy who has competed three times and won one of each… The European selection and Bocuse d’Or Lyon have started to be pretty consistent in the last 5  or 6 years – Scandinavian countries are always on the podium, and often the only ones on the podium. Norway, Sweden and Denmark have many medals under their belt, and Finland and Iceland are never far behind (Iceland has never landed lower than 9th place in either the European or Lyon competition).

Viktor and team Iceland win the best fish dish!

Viktor and team Iceland win the best fish dish!

The competition is super complicated, but can be broken down into a few words to explain it simply enough for you and me to understand. Each country sends a Chef and a commis (an assistant that acts kind of like as sous chef that has to be under 23 years old) that have 5 hours and 35 minutes to cook two gourmet courses for 24 judges. They plate 24 fish dishes, and 24 meat dishes that have first to be presented on a showy catering platter, then split up into 24 portions. The fish and meat produce are the same for each team – this year it was Sturgeon fish (and its caviar) and Hungarian Young Red deer. The rest of the meal is imagined and designed by each team for months prior to the competition. In addition to the chef and commis, the team has a Coach and a President (officially), plus a dozen other behind the scenes experts to help (designers, second assistants, promotional managers, and millions of kronurs worth of sponsors who all have a say).

Team Iceland relaxing after their grueling 5 hrs and 35 minutes

Team Iceland relaxing after their grueling 5 hrs and 35 minutes

Viktor Örn was this year´s chef to compete, one of 20 chefs and nations represented, and placed 5th in the European Selection. He also won the prize for the Best Fish Dish. Only one other chef, Siggi Laufdal, has placed higher in the pre-competition, 4th place in 2012, and also won the Best Fish dish prize. After the podium is filled with the overall winners in both dishes, there is a reward given to the highest earned points in each dish, one for meat and one for fish. There’s also a prize for the best commis, and the judges are the presidents of each competing country, plus 4 honorary judges (Paul Bocuse’s son and previous Bocuse d’Or winners or presidents of hosting countries).

this years Bocuse Europe was hosted by Hungary in Budapest

this years Bocuse Europe was hosted by Hungary in Budapest

Viktor Örn is a good friend and an unbelievable chef, having won the Icelandic chef of the year in 2013 and the Nordic Chef of the year in 2014 (he’s HOT at the moment), so stay tuned to see how he does in Lyon for the Bocuse d´Or 2017. Better yet, come and support team Iceland at the event, since it´s a one hell of a time… and our humble little country never has as many supporters as the others, even though we´re so much better than most of them 😛

French Gastronomy and Bocuse in Lyon

Lyon is an amazing city for gastronomy, with more than 20 Michelin stars given to its local restaurants. Food experts and lovers alike have even come up with a special term to refer to a traditional Lyonnais restaurant, a ´bouchon.´ I ate at Leon de Lyon, but not being a fan of pork, mustard or foie gras, it was hard to choose a traditional plate. My favourite restaurant was Au 14 Fevrier, a Valentine´s day themed restaurant where even the bread and butter are heart shaped.

the French are really good at making cute little coffees

Lyon native Paul Bocuse first became a legend in France with his innovatie nouvelle cuisine, changing traditional French cuisine into something fresher and healthier. He is one of the most awarded and famous chefs in the world, and the Culinary Institute of America named him the Chef of the century. His namesake restaurant, Paul Bocuse, has fully booked reservations each night months in advance. There you can try his famous truffle soup, probably the tastiest but most expensive soup you could ever try. He also established the Paul Bocuse Institute, a prestigious culinary school where 10 other cooperative universities around the world send their most promising chefs to study.

Siggi, 2013 Icelandic candidate, and Þráinn, his coach and 2011 candidate

The Bocuse d’Or is a culinary competition, kind of like the Chef Olympics, held every other year in Lyon since 1987. It gets more and more popular each year, and the competition itself has grown to include chefs from every continent. There is a regional Bocuse comptetition held every opposite year to decide who the qualifying chefs will be (from Europe, Asia, and the Americas)  to compete for the Bocuse d’Or, and specially invited countries participate too (like Australia and Morocco).

sporting a chef hat at Sirha

The competition happens concurrently with the Sirha exhibition, a rendez-vous of all things restaurant related. Local chocolatiers and champagne makers offered free samples at their booths, and patisseries and cheese makers from all over Europe come too. We sampled our way through all the most delicious booths while 24 countries competed for the Bocuse d´or, until finally 2 days later, France was declared the winner.

For the first time ever, Japan won a medal with 3rd place. Iceland placed 8th, which is an incredible feat if you consider the fact that from a country with a population of only 320,000, we have the 8th best chef in the world. In 2011, my friend Þráinn from Iceland placed 7th, so we´re pretty consistent.