Gísli Matthías Auðunnson: Pioneer
Gísli Matthías Auðunnson is a Chef and the co-owner of Slippurinn restaurant on the Westman Islands in Iceland. Slippurinn, which means The Shipyard in Icelandic, is located in a building that previously housed the Magni Machine Workshop. Built in 1912 it is the only building in the harbour area enlisted as a protected building and has played a very important role in the industrial history of Westman Islands.After the workshop closed 30 years ago the main purpose of the building has been to house equipment for fishing boats of the island. Since 2012 the building has undergone a major renovation respecting its history. The interior of the building was repaired to almost original state and the old work tables, shelves, tools and other equipment that were still in place were given new roles to play.
Interview by Will Kitson
Let’s start at the beginning. When did you first become interested in cooking?
Becoming a chef was never the plan. The plan was becoming a football coach! But then I started working for my uncle, Sigurður Gíslason, as a dishwasher to get some extra money with school. There I was introduced to how they did things in the kitchen and I fell in love with the ambition everybody had, the speed and the fact that everybody was ready to give all their energy just so people could eat good food. From there I’ve spent most of the time in a kitchen.
You and your family renovated the restaurant from an abandoned shipyard. How long had you been dreaming about opening your own space, and how did you shift from dreaming to doing?
I had thought about it now and then but never expected to open my own that young. I was only 23 years of age but really determined to prove my self. This was actually an idea from my mother one year before we opened – we joked about it for maybe one hour but that night we decided to go for it! And after that evening we started working on the restaurant.
The plan was never to do the restaurant as it is now. We were thinking about a cozy family run restaurant and we really didn’t know how much work was ahead of us.
But I’m definitely not the only one that should be getting all the credit. My sister Indiana has done wonders with all things concerning the restaurant. And both mom and dad have also done their part as well in making this place what it is today.
Slippurinn is located on the Westman Islands off of Iceland. In what way has the isolation of the restaurant’s location affected your approach towards cuisine?
Yes definitely. I’m really much into what the philosophy of both the New Nordic Cuisine and Slow food is all about.
To source most of the things you’re using around you and not forget about all the old methods and techniques that people have been using for centuries.
We wanted to do our own version of what we think is Icelandic Cuisine and therefore only use the best ingredients around us. And from there we had to think of what we had; of course the fish, the shellfish, rhubarb, seaweeds, a lot of really nice herbs and also lamb and try to do something interesting.
Tell us about your creative process as a chef.
People often ask about where I do get the recipes I’m using, how I come up with dishes.
The thing is that me and my sister, Indíana (manager of Slippurinn) work very closely with our philosophy and how we like things to be done. And lot of the time it’s a collaboration between us when a new dish or new cocktail comes on the menu.
And all we ever do is think about food – we think about textures, flavour combinations and read books and articles about interesting people, chefs and restaurants and talk about it. About how ideas come up it can really happen anywhere; maybe you’re either eating a 1$ dumpling in China Town NYC or foraging wild seaweed on a rainy day in Westman Islands Iceland you can get inspired anywhere. It could be inspired by a great type of sesame pancakes and the method how they make them or great fresh sea taste of fresh kelp that could really give a deep flavour to a broth for the restaurant.
For example my favourite herb is probably sorrel, because all Icelanders know what sorrel tastes like because when young everybody ate a lot of it out in the wild but haven´t maybe tasted sorrel for years.
When you can take that flavour, season it carefully and create a balance of the right acidity and sweetness and really execute it how it is suppose to be it really can make wonders for people. Create that tiny bit of nostalgia AND deliciousness.
But of course I also get ideas from a lot of great chefs I’ve worked with and mix up with my own philosophy and create dishes and flavours I’d like to serve people.
Slippurinn has proved to be a great success, but there must have been times when you doubted the feasibility of creating such a unique restaurant in such a remote location. How did you stay focused and overcome your fears?
We, the four of us, are really happy about the direction Slippurinn is going in.
From day one we always said that we are not a “fine dining” restaurant, it’s a local eatery serving food of really good quality and using really good produce and a lot of ambition goes into serving the food, creating the atmosphere and doing the whole experience for people good.
We haven´t had any investors and paid for everything from our own pockets and we have to run it well as a business. I guess that’s the hardest part.
But I do believe we’re doing great things….
A flavour that best describes your current state of mind?
Now we just closed the restaurant after the summer season and currently working on a plan for next summer and I guess a sweet flavour of Icelandic arctic thyme comes first in mind because the season is just finishing for that as well here on the island!
To watch a video of the goings on at Slippurinn, click: HERE
Published: October 7th, 2014