A covid-free trip to Tallinn & Copenhagen

I´m lucky to call some impressive chefs my closest friends, and the only way out of Iceland this October was with their help. I jumped on the Bocuse d´or team bandwagon to the European pre-competition, held in Tallinn October 15-16 after being postponed twice since the original March date. Instead of 22 countries competing, border closures and rising covid numbers meant 7 couldn´t make it so 16 countries gathered in Estonia to compete. Team Iceland just made it thru the cracks, not knowing if they would compete or not until all ten team members were actually landed in Tallinn and their second covid test came back with a negative result.

Bocuse d’or European preliminary

Good thing we did got to participate, since it was one of Iceland´s best results ever. We won the best fish dish, beating all the heavy hitters normally on the podium: Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Overall we landed in 4th place, which has happened a couple of times before, but now we´re motivated to beat the normal podium takers and go for top 3 in the worldwide Bocuse d´or next summer in Lyon.

the quiet streets of Tallinn

Tallinn itself was pretty relaxed, covid cases next to none. Things were definitely noticeably quieter, as every city center is that relied heavily on tourism, but at least people felt safe in the streets and restaurants. Even bars stayed open with no social distancing rules, and wearing a mask was the only requirement at the Bocuse competition.

nighttime stroll

We wined and dined our way through some great restaurants – Nok Nok, Noa and F-Hoone to name a few. We stayed at the Tallink Spa hotel, complete with an indoor pool and half a dozen different dry saunas and steam rooms. We shopped at malls and walked thru markets, enjoying the simple pleasures of being tourists in a foreign city. Falling leaves met green grass and crisp autumn nights made our surroundings feel exotic. It´s a beautiful thing to see a different angle of the sun, smell slightly warmer air, and feel like a stranger in the most familiar way again.

leaving the Baltic

On our way home, after a couple of hours flight delay in Tallinn, Icelandair cancelled our flight to Reykjavik and we overnighted in Copenhagen. We were politely asked to stay in our hotel, which we got to without any facial intrusions, but we had to leave to get food (and wine). We dined at Barr and I ran into an old friend for a glass of wine, and rode the M2 train back to Kastrup the next morning at a civilized hour. It was almost too easy to stay… I am surprised I actually made it home.

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 😛