When Ten Speed Press offered the opportunity to explore Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason's new cookbook, North, I couldn't possibly resist.
I was in Iceland last year and although I didn't have the opportunity to experience Gíslason's restaurant, Dill, I did love all the food I encountered. Cod, which I'd never particularly liked until I devoured Icelandic cod, rhubarb tucked into the tiny gardens of homes on the coast, angelica growing wild (and infused in the cough drops I picked up).
We ate at an incredible restaurant in the north, Narfeyrarstofa, rhubarb dessert included, and one of the most delicious meals I've experienced. Since then I've wanted to try some Icelandic-inspired meals.
But in terms of that, this book just isn't going to do it for me. Which makes me sad.
If you're an adventurous cook who loves picking up a cookbook that requires a certain level of skill and look through the challenging recipes and draw up a list of those you'd like to take on....
This book probably isn't going to work for you, either.
Because let me tell you, I am one of those cooks, and the recipes in here just seem impossible for me.
We're talking ingredients and kitchen/scientific equipment and skills that even a relatively skilled and adventurous home cook isn't going to be able to do.
At the beginning of the book, the authors went to great lengths to explain that many of the ingredients are native to Iceland and that it's unlikely that they could easily be sourced elsewhere but that's okay because they can be substituted with other similar ingredients, and they had me convinced.
And then I started reading through the recipes.
Birch Meringue, Buttermilk pudding, and Birch Granita. Dried Trotters, Pickled Onions, and Hay-Smoked Mayonnaise. Lamb Sweetbreads, Caramelized Celery Root, and Blood Sausage.
I was looking for a recipe I could make and so started looking for one of the more simplistic recipes, and also for ones that I could easily replace at least half of the ingredients. I narrowed it down to less than a handful but then, reading in further detail through the recipes, I came to the realization that even those recipes would require things like foam, and sauces and bringing things together that would take at least half my weekend to source and create.
Hmmmm, so I can't tell you that I actually made any recipes. I might try some day, when I want to take on the challenge and devote a weekend to the project.
Please don't walk away, if you're interested in Iceland and fascinating food.
This book is gorgeous. And not just physically. The photographs are pure architectural, landscape, and foodist pornography.
Each section includes passionate storytelling, both about Gíslason's reasons for starting Dill and his love for Iceland and the people there (I did find it odd that Gíslason was always referred to in the third person... I understand that there were essentially three authors here, including the photographer, but since it's primarily about Gíslason and his experiences, this felt odd and stilted).
They profile the producers of the food products in Iceland, including lamb and seaweed and cod and barley (they grow barley in Iceland!). The profiles are absolutely fascinating and educational and beautifully written and photographed.
Even if Iceland hasn't necessarily been on your cultural or foodist radar, if you enjoy profiles about people who devote themselves to a particular craft in their homeland of which they are enormously proud, you'll love this love letter to Iceland.
For me, this book is more for reading about a culture and its people who are thrillingly passionate about their local ingredients than it is a cookbook I'll work much from, but I'm perfectly okay with that.
Elves not included. Or at least, there aren't any photographs.