”There were basically just two ingredients in Iceland growing up as a child – fish and lamb,” says Ragnar Fridriksson whose travels abroad from an early age were a culinary eye-opener.
As a life-long food lover and wine buff, he’s spent his professional life in the hospitality industry, moving countries and crossing continents and today he’s Managing Director of Worldchefs. He admits he was a skeptic when talking in terms of plant-based began. But that was 10 years ago…
What was the moment that sparked your interest for all-things food?
There wasn’t really a restaurant scene when I was growing up in Iceland in the 80s but then my father moved to England where we visited all types of restaurants. That’s when I started to get really enthusiastic about food as well as wine. I studied at catering school with a view to running a hotel or restaurant. I never thought about becoming a chef – as a people person I wanted to be front of house – but I immediately got hooked on cooking and seeing how chefs worked in the kitchens.
Have your food influences changed over the years?
I’m still very curious about food and always want to dive in and experience new things. I’ve been lucky to travel a lot with my work and be exposed to a lot of amazing food cultures, so I guess it’s harder for me to be surprised these days.
Italian cuisine is my go-to comfort food and, for a special occasion, I’d go back to my roots with lamb – but with a twist of Mediterranean influence including aubergines, bell peppers and squash. I still eat meat but my diet has changed a lot and I incorporate a lot more plant-based today.
Still, you were initially skeptical of the plant-based ‘trend’ – is that fair?
Yes, I was. It was around 10 years ago when Worldchefs began discussing the role of the chef in a more sustainable food system. Part of that was about buying local and seasonal but it was also about simply eating more fruit and vegetables. It’s crazy how fast it has evolved and chefs today cannot dismiss it. There has been a huge shift and plant-based is not just a trendy fad – consumers are continuing to demand more alternatives.
What changes have you made when cooking at home?
Today, I live in France which has a huge agricultural landscape and farmers’ market everywhere. It’s a ritual for me to visit them and its where you find the best seasonal produce. Back in Iceland, vegetables mean potatoes, carrots or turnips so the variety and choice are great to experiment with. Cooking with them is amazing when they are so fresh, in season and readily available and I like to add different flavors, tossing in influences such as Indian, Thai or Moroccan.
How would you encourage others to make a similar shift in their diets?
People tend to be put off buying vegetables for two reasons; because they are perishable and they take too much time to prepare. I buy vegetables in bulk and if they are about to go off, I just whizz them up into a soup, which you can even freeze in portions. I’d also encourage people to get a good quality, sharp knife, keep it sharp and improve your knife skills. Learn the basics of how chefs work and cutting vegetables becomes fast so cooking becomes easier, more enjoyable and it saves you a lot of time.