My Midsummer Night’s Dream

21st June 2013: a day I’ll never forget. Having spent two days working lunch shifts, I  stepped into my chef whites for the first time to cook a dinner service for a fully booked Dill Restaurant. I really don’t like to make life easy for myself. My first time in a profesional kitchen? A 7 course tasting menu at Iceland’s leading restaurant.  Heart pounding, hands shaking, butterflies in my stomach; I hadn’t felt this nervous since my grade 1 piano exam.

Dill Restaurant situated in the stunning Nordic House

Dill Restaurant in the stunning Nordic House

Learning from the best - Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason and I

Learning from the best – Head Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason and me

“Lexi, table 4. 4 Snacks. Go!” Chef Gunnar calls the first order for the snack and amuse-bouche. Deep breath. Here we go… Snack ready. “Service” I announce as I send out my first ever dish in a professional kitchen. I’ve never felt so alive. The buzz and adrenaline are incredible.

Rye bread, Sour Cream and Chives

Rye bread, sour cream and chives – my first ever plate in a professional kitchen.

Preparing the Amuse Bouche

Delicate work for a nervous chef. Preparing the amuse bouche. (left to right) Cumin pastry with cream cheese angelica. Dried cod with mustard and chervil flowers. Scallop with dill mayonnaise.

Steadily the tables started to fill up and the pace quickened rapidly. Dill has an open kitchen and diners can keep a watchful eye on your every step. “Lexi, always keep good posture and cook with energy and grace.” Certainly an aspect I never considered when cooking at home (unless I’m trying to impress a woman of course.)

Snacks complete it was time to take down the station and move on to the main substance of the menu. Plating up the first course of rutabaga, cheese foam, sweet and dour dill sauce and crispy millet I was still struggling to fathom how such responsibility had been given someone with no kitchen experience beyond two days training. I had to pinch myself…yes, it was really happening.

Rutabaga and Dill

First course ready to go…

Raw and smoked arctic charr with sour milk and cucumber. Gunnar smokes the charr with sheep manure and proudly announces "eat shit!"

Raw and smoked arctic char with sour milk and cucumber. Gunnar smokes the char with sheep manure and proudly announces “eat shit!”

Course 3 - plating up Cauliflower, burned butter, Rhye bread and boiled egg.

Course 3 – plating up cauliflower, burned butter, rye bread and boiled egg.

The next few hours flew by in a daze of colour and heat. I became so engrossed in the orders I sometimes lost all sense of my surroundings. “Lexi, when I say something you respond yes. If we were in France you’d have to answer oui chef…because the French will be French.” Chef Arnar jokingly made sure I maintained good communication in the midst of chaos.

Course 5 - Pork belly in whey glaze with herbs, apple, pickled angelia root and celeriac chips.

Course 5 – Pork belly in whey glaze with herbs, apple, pickled angelica root and celeriac chips.

Before I knew it the first 5 courses were complete and only the puddings remained. Relieved to get away from the hot stove it was time for some fun with the liquid nitrogen.

Skyr, rhubarb and sorrel. With a bit of nitrogen flare.

Skyr, rhubarb and sorrel. With a bit of nitrogen flare.

At the end of a gruelling 14 hour shift I sat down for an ice-cold beer with Gunnar, Arnar and head waiter Tumi. As I gazed at the early morning light on the longest day of the year, I struggled to take in what an incredible experience this had been. It really was a Midsummer night’s dream.

A Midsummer's Night Dream! Cooking in Dill restaurant.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream = Cooking in Dill restaurant.

The dream continues. Next stop: New York City…

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