Icelandic Chef Gunnar Karl Gislason on His Favorite Reykjavik Restaurants
In anticipation of his move to New York City, the acclaimed Icelandic chef talks about his favorite dishes, most beloved kitchen tools, and where to eat in Reykjavik.
Acclaimed Icelandic chef Gunnar Karl Gislason earned a name for himself at Restaurant Dill, a cozy tasting-menu spot set in a former horse barn in Reykjavik. For his latest venture, he'll be relocating to New York City to run Claus Meyer's first restaurant in the U.S., which will serve seasonal, Nordic-inspired cuisine at Grand Central Terminal's new food hall. (Restaurant Dill will remain open.) Here, Gislason—whose cookbook, North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland, hit shelves last year—dishes on his favorite cooking tool, where to eat in Reykjavik, and more.
Favorite ingredient to cook with and why?
Potatoes have always been my favorite, simply because there is nothing better than new potatoes, boiled and eaten with salt and good butter—a lot of butter.
One rule you learned in cooking school that every home cook should know:
How to boil potatoes.
One rule you learned in cooking school that every home cook should ignore:
Don’t take those recipes too seriously. Mistakes are sometimes the best invention of all. Play with what you have and make it yours.
Kitchen tool you can't live without:
After my knives, it would be the blowtorch. I burn a lot of things, everything from a piece of meat to fish to vegetables. I use it to add a little grill flavor.
Secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique:
Well, it would not be a secret if I told you…But it would probably be all kinds of preservation: fermented green strawberries, fermented jus from the summer’s tomatoes, dried herbs and spices, pickled vegetables, and sour stuff in whey. You better be ready for winter in Iceland.
Spice/ingredient/technique you turn to again and again:
I would say angelica, rutabaga, and smoke.
Favorite dish to cook at home:
Icelandic meat soup, made from lamb. You take a lamb shoulder and offal like heart or tongue, and sear on all sides until golden-brown. Put the meat in a pot along with a peeled and cubed yellow beet, small potatoes, angelica, and chervil. Season well with salt and pepper, and pour water in the pot, enough to cover everything. Cook at 120 degrees [Ed. Note: about 250 degrees F] for about 18 hours. Serve and enjoy with friends.
Perfect day of eating in your city:
My new favorite breakfast spot is Kaffihús Vesturbæjar, an old pharmacy that opened as a café in the Vesturbæjar neighborhood a few months ago. I also love Grái Kötturinn (Gray Cat), and Reykjavik Roasters for coffee. For lunch, Hverfisgata 12 serves relaxed bar snacks and good pizza. If I’m not at Dill, then a great meal and live jazz at Sæmundur í sparifötunum at Kex Hostel on Tuesday evening tops everything. And for dessert, I go for something sweet from Ásgeir Sandholt on Laugavegur.