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.”

Foodies in Morocco

No trip to Morocco would be complete without Moroccan food, and even though I’d been before to Morocco (mostly searching for Arabian horses and surf), returning to eat more food and learn how to cook some was a great idea. In my company was the best chef in Iceland, so adding his tastebuds and expertise to the mix made things a lot easier and more enjoyable.

the view from Dar Finn, our hotel in Fes

the view from Dar Finn, our hotel in Fes

Our trip started in Marrakesh, which is a majour tourist hub for Europeans to come and eat, take cooking classes, soak in the sun, and overshop for leather and clay at the massive souk. We did all of the above, and our favourite restaurant of the whole trip was hidden within the souk, Latitude 31°, but sadly didn´t serve any wine. A delicious dinner without wine pairing always seems to be missing the cherry on the top.

cooking class at La Maison Arabe

cooking class at La Maison Arabe

 

Nomad was also a great restaurant in Marrakesh, and we took a cooking class at the Maison Arabe, which is highly rated for good reasons – its a major production with live TV screens and multiple chefs and bread makers (and wooden bread oven) and teachers, AND wine pairing to eat all the food you´ve cooked yourself. Once youve had your hands covered in olive oil and nearly burnt a finger off holding the tagine, you get to relax poolside at the Maison Arabe´s country estate, a short drive out of Marrakesh. Its super expensive to stay at the Maison Arabe, but I can suggest Dar Baraka as a sort of boutique hostel alternative.

the finished product of a days cooking

the finished product of a days cooking

We made a circle from Marrakesh to Fez, Meknes, Rabat and Casablanca, always searching out the best restuarants and riads to stay at. In Fez we stayed at Dar Finn, boasting the most beautiful roof top breakfast patio we ate at. We signed up for a private bread making cooking class at the Clock Kitchen which was worth the 40 euros, especially since we got to keep all the 4 types of breads and pastries we made at the end of it. We decided to share it with everyone sitting in the cafe around us, and still ended up with a few coconut macaroons to keep for the road. One restaurant we regretted missing was ‘7’, a locally run place that imports an internationl chef every 2-4 months to cook a new menu with his local expertise with Moroccan products. At the moment there’s a Californian-Asian chef cooking up some mean treats.

the old souk of Rabat nearing sunset

the old souk of Rabat nearing sunset

The souk in Fez was smaller, more intimate, and somehow more authentically local than Marrakesh, so we shopped for some spices and argan oil there. Later we bought a silver tea pot and a yellow dress, a little similar to the ones all the women wear with KKK pointed hoods.

the bread making teacher at Clock Kitchen

the bread making teacher at Clock Kitchen

They say Fez may be the foodie capital of Morocco, others argue its Rabat or Marrakesh, but I can atleast recommend Dar Roumana as one of the best dining experiences in Morocco, located in the Fez medina. The Ruined Garden was a great lunch spot, literally placed within a ruined garden. They also taught cooking classes, but didn´t sell wine.

The Ruined Garden restaurant

The Ruined Garden restaurant

Next stop was Meknes, were the obvious hotel to stay at was Ryad Bahia – atleast according to trip advisor and lonely planet. But then we showed up and seemed to be the only guests in the 8 or 10 bedroom hotel, which wasn´t a problem, but only surprising after having all the other guesthouses and restaurants nearly fully booked. The same happened at our dinner spot – Riad Yacout had a great restaurant reputation, but we were the first and second to last table to eat there.

the colourful medina of Moulay idriss

the colourful medina of Moulay idriss

In Rabat we stayed at Riad Oudaya, and just because of our check-in timing, landed the suite with a built in fireplace while the others who checked in after us were disperesed between the 3 remaining bed rooms. The restaurant Dinarjat was fully booked, with live oud (moroccan guitar) players and dancing waitresses. The setting was a beautifully refurbished riad, complete with marble mosaics and goldfish water ponds, and they had Moroccan wines!

Casablanca

Casablanca

Casablanca was a transient place for us, but we had to try Cafe Sqala for lunch. It had a beautiful patio, a smorgasbord of Moroccan salads, and any type of tagine or pastilla you could dream of. For a more sophisticated meal, we also tried Le Rouget de l’isle, a french inspired restaurant outside of the medina in the backyard of an old mansion.

street food sellers having a ball

street food sellers having a ball

Inbetween the train trips and bus rides, we also hired a taxi for a whole day (which costs 40 euros – the price of a  15 minute taxi in Reykjavik) to visit the Roman ruins at Volubilis and the holy Muslim city of Moulay Idriss. We scampered up and down and around the little hilltop village to find the most photographic old town yet, full of cats and bread makers, and ate a delicious kebab street sandwich (arguably the second best meal of the whole trip). We shared Volubilis with a few busloads of tourists, and experimented with the selfie stick we bought in some souk to try and get our picture infront of the roman pillars and arched city gate.

Volubilis Roman ruins

Volubilis Roman ruins

I think I left Morocco 5 pounds heavier than when I arrived, but don’t regret one meal. I also learned how to bake 3 types of bread and some cookies, tagine, and 2 types of Moroccan salad, and came home with my very own tagine. I I’m slightly addicted to couscous and still can’t understand why its not as popular as rice or pasta around the world, and some Moroccan wines were really, really (surprisingly) good. Now its time to start practicing with my tagine, and figure out where to buy Moroccan rosé in Iceland.