North by Gunnar and Jody is simply a breathtakingly beautiful book, from the dust jacket to the innards. First and foremost, it’s a cookbook that tells a tale about Icelandic food and provides details from producers to recipes. Of course some of the recipes / items that are featured in this cookbook cannot be replicated exactly by American cooks, but some simple replacements are provided for cooking equipment and ingredients.
As per usual for cookbooks I enjoy – this book isn’t just about recipes and cooking, but also tells a tale about its author and his/her culture reflected in the book itself. I knew very little about Icelandic culture prior to reading North and now not only do I appreciate the culture much more, I also want to visit Iceland one day to partake in the local culture.
Part of the appeal is how honest the food and the people are about it. Fermented shark, shit-smoking (it’s literally referred to as shit-smoking in the book), and the flavors that come from the usage of traditional methods. Icelanders literally have to use every resource available to them, and those resources provide the unique taste structure to those foodstuffs, such as smoked Arctic char being smoked with blocks of packed sheep manure.
My favorite part of the cookbook’s structure is probably the photographs of the traditional producers of Icelandic staples that furnish Gunnar with product. Then an interview with them follows – about the item’s provenance and their own lives that revolve around their jobs, and what the future entails for the products. The history of their people can be seen in how their traditional foods are made (or caught, foraged, or produced). All of this comes about because of their relationship with Gunnar, who prepares their items in the best possible way.
A lot of the recipes seem very daunting for any non-professional chef – but the photography is exquisite, including the Icelandic landscape that seems to produce a dazzling scene no matter however it’s photographed. A wide variety of food types are represented in the book – it is by no means exhaustive, but provides a simple portfolio of flavors that intermingle to bring a celebration of Nordic culture to our mouths. Simply reading this cookbook is sufficient to transport the reader to Iceland, to learn about the people and the land just from learning about the food they eat.
The history of meat and fishes along with vegetables all provide a backdrop to the interwoven story of modern Iceland. Even the slow food movement has reached Iceland – we see the countryside, which is rarely publicized globally. We learn that chicken is rare in Iceland. Sheep and cows are the most common sources of meat, with goats being very rare for a variety of reasons (explained in the book in a succinct manner).
On to the book design part of the review – the stunning photography pops because of the matte paper that was selected for the book to be printed on.
While there isn’t a photograph for each and every recipe in the book – there’s more than enough other photographs of Icelandic people and landscapes to make up for that. I almost find myself enjoying the interview photographs more than I do the food porn.
Isn’t the book just gorgeous throughout? It’s certainly another fantastic publication from Ten Speed Press. The cover was designed by Emma Campion, the cover & jacket design was done by Toni Tajima and the cover & jacket photography was by Evan Sung who also did the photography throughout the entire book.
The design of the book itself truly helps elevate the pleasure of reading it – from the sewn pages:
To the folded & wrapped jacket around the book itself (giving it an unique aura, much like its subject matter). Even if you never plan on cooking any recipe from this book – it’s still well worth a read.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
If you’re looking for more information about this book: Random House
Overall Grade – A
ISBN: 978-1-60774-498-6 (First Edition, 2014)
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Binding: Paper boards, folded dust jacket, sewn pages & headbands (Excellent)
Paper: Matte (Excellent)
Affiliate link: North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland (Amazon)