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Hali is known for a great storytelling tradition

FARM

The farm Hali in Suðursveit is half-way between Höfn in Hornafjörður and Skaftafell. In previous times, the farm was very isolated as many glacial rivers in the south of the country were not bridged until after the mid-twentieth century. Hali is known for a great storytelling tradition which is still alive and well. The natural surroundings of the farm are breathtaking with Borgarhafnarfjall towering above and endless ocean taking over below. A majestic Vatnajökull makes the surroundings even more magnificent. Þórbergur Þórðarson, one of the most significant writers In Iceland in the twentieth century, was born and rasied in Hali. His work has immortalised Suðursveit and the history of the occupants at Hali.

Our farmer collaborators are Þorbjörg Arnórsdóttir and Fjölnir Torfason. Fjölnir is the grandchild of Steinþór Þórðarson, Þórbergur´s brother, and the family has lived in Hali for eight generations. Enthusiasm and drive characterize Þorbjörg and Fjölnir who opened Þórbergssetur in 2006. This is a cultural centre where various exhibitions linked to the history of Suðursveit and the life and work of Þórbergur are set up. In Þórbergssetur there is a small restaurant and facilities for conferences and celebrations. In Hali there has also been a guesthouse since 2005 which can house up to forty guests.

Þorbjörg and Fjölnir have farmed fish since 2002 and yearly produce about 20 tons of Arctic charr which is mostly sold for export. The sheep stock at Hali counts about 100 sheep. The meat is used in the restaurant and the emphasis there is on typical country food; meat soup, home-made paté, home-baked bread and dishes made from lamb and Arctic charr. In Hali, vegetables are also grown for use in the restaurant and geothermal heat is utilised for the growing. The warm water is also used for the fish spawn farming. The couple at Hali is particularly knowledgeable about everything to do with the history and work of Þórbergur. Guests enjoy their narrative skill and it is an unforgettable experience to sit in Þórbergssetur, look out of the window and listen to Þorbjörg read from Þórbergur´s work.

COURSE

The students in the course were Auður Ösp Guðmundsdóttir, Halla Kristín Hannesdóttir and Steinþór Hannes Gissurarson. They visited the farmers at Hali, familiarised themselves with the activities and facilities, along with the ideas of the farmers and their vision for the future. The students scrutinised the life and work of Þórbergur Þórðarson which was an inexhaustible source of inspiration to them. The ideas that surfaced in the throes of the labour of thought were mostly around Þórbergur´s compulsion for measurements and for food.

“Þórbergur on the other hand never abandoned this compulsion for measuring, he took it with him to town and made it the hallmark of his eccentricity. Constant measurements of temperature, measurements of steps, measurements of heights and references to directions in a way became the backbone to his life” (Pétur Gunnarsson, Í Suðursveit, pp. 7 -8.).

Students also submitted a suggestion for a menu and for kitchen implements for Þórbergssetur, inspired by the measurement compulsion. Accordingly, it was to be possible to order a fist of bread and so and so many thumbs of Arctic charr. It was also to be possible to order a Good Running Aground but ships which ran aground along the south coast of the country typically rewarded occupants with rare treats, such as cognac and other delicacies.

When the students´ proposal was presented at the final overview, they presented what we call the pyramid which demonstrates the base, the core and the uniqueness of the project. The procedure dictates that one or two concepts are chosen to sit at the top of the pyramid which describe the uniqueness of the project. The group had chosen two wonderful words: one which they made themselves, “the radiance of eccentricity” (sérviskuljómi), and another from Þórbergur, “the glow of inspiration” (innblástursglóð). When it came to presenting the top of the pyramid, a ray of sunshine suddenly shone through the window and illuminated the words on the board. There was an intake of breath among students and teachers attending the overview and it was clear that the spirit of Þórbergur had arrived wanting to declare his happiness at the good words the group had chosen to guide its work.

Þórbergur talked about heaven in the gut

RESEARCH PROJECT

This is a collaborative project between the Designers and Farmers Project and the farmers at Hali, Matís, Örvar Birgisson, master baker and Kjartan Gíslason, chef. The work took place in autumn 2010, from 1 September to 1 December. The project was based in Skemmtihúsið in Laufásvegur.

The main reason for the proposal for Hali being chosen to go on to the research part of the project was that the group of students demonstrated that there was a unique opportunity in twinning together the restaurant and the museum at Hali, the Þórbergssetur. The museum disseminates the story and work of the writer Þórbergur Þórðarson in a powerful way through a stage set of sorts and the restaurant offers a varied menu which is based on Hali produce. Many guests coming to the restaurant do not take the time to visit the museum, which is in the same building. The starting point of the project was to develop a product for the restaurant with a view to guests getting to know Þórbergur through their meal. 

The research project was divided into two main parts, firstly, a mapping of the environment and local conditions and secondly, a development of dishes and their presentation in the spirit of Þórbergur. The outcomes of the project are divided into the following parts:

  • Sweet buns
  • Rye bread roll cake with paté filling
  • Rye bread roll cake with Arctic charr filling 
  • Cold beetroot sauce
  • Cold carrot and orange sauce
  • POS (point of sale) Box of buns
  • POS (point of sale) Roll cake chopping block
  • Bag of abduction
  • Menu

ANALYSIS

The first part of the research work was to research and map restaurants, food production and museums from Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Höfn in Hornafjörður. This was done to set Þórbergssetur into context with other services in the area and to discern where main opportunities were present. A questionnaire was also administered to people in the surrounding area as well as to tour operators and a SWOT analysis was carried out. The conclusion was that a good lunch and late afternoon menu was what should be emphasised. It also emerged that this is exactly the time of day that Fjölnir and Þorbjörg, the farmers in Hali, have concentrated on for the past few years.

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT: ROLL CAKES BIG AND SMALL

At the same time, the group worked on a pyramid analysis for the farm itself and for the product. This method has proved very valuable in the development phase but it consists of a definition of the base, the core and the uniqueness of the project. The pyramids go through some changes during the research phase and serve the function of a compass of sorts so that we do not wander off course. 

Having peered into Þórbergur and sought out interesting connections, the team was bewitched by his love of buns. The buns were developed from a chapter in The Wunderkind (Ofvitinn) by Þórbergur. In the chapter “The Great Summer of Rain”, Þórbergur cannot afford food for a while but when he comes into possession of a few coins he runs to the bakery and buys a bun and some milk. It was decided to develop the best buns in Iceland so that people would describe them as “heaven in the gut”, as Þórbergur did in his day.

BUNS

The proposal revolves around working your way from this passion Þórbergur had for buns. This is a beautiful and honest connection. It is suggested that in the restaurant of Þórbergssetur, the day menu is based around buns. The aim is to develop exceptionally good buns, both sweet and savoury. These buns build on the classic base for buns and of course, local produce shall be used. It is interesting to work with this mundane sweetbread, transform it and create an interesting and progressive vision for the restaurant. The aim is to create a product which is simple in production but which may be developed in varied ways. We think it is a great advantage to use a well-known phenomenon such as the bun. They have, e.g. the good quality of appealing to all ages.

The base and the knowledge of buns is everywhere and not a great deal of changes in the production method is needed in order to create a new and interesting product. By changing fillings and presentation of the buns, it is possible to tease out quite a new and unique experience of food. The varied food produce at Hali plays a large role in the development of fillings. 

Alongside the design team´s sketching process and thought labour, the collaboration with the chef Kjartan Gíslason and the master baker Örvar Birgisson began. The team experimented with taste and looks. It was considered necessary to also develop savoury buns and all eyes then turned to the roll cake, which like the buns are well known in our food culture. In the book Steinarnir tala, Þórbergur describes how rye bread and ember breads were baked at Hali. Rye bread is not traditionally used for roll cakes but it was tempting to try it. In the end, a cinnamon bun and two types of rye bread roll cakes were developed. The cinnamon bun is from butter rich yeast dough with cardamom. The buns are filled with a cinnamon marzipan filling which is a new approach to the old cinnamon buns and makes them heartier than their traditional cousins. After the buns have been baked, they are brushed with sugar glazing and powdered with cardamom which makes them even more delicious. 

THE RYE BREAD ROLL CAKE

The rye bread roll cake has an Arctic charr filling but Hali has farmed Arctic char for ten years. A rye bread roll cake with a paté filling was also developed. The lamb comes from animals who range freely in the mountain above the farm. Rye bread is not traditionally used in roll cakes. It proved difficult to slice and it had a tendency to break, especially if it had been frozen. The farmers needed to invest in a special knife to cut the bread. The conclusion was that it was best to work on the roll cakes while the bread was fresh and then to freeze it. Further experiments could also be made with the dough in collaboration with its producer. In the research, rye bread from Ömmubakstur was used. To accompany the rye bread roll cakes, guests can choose between beetroot sauce or orange/carrot sauce. Ice cold milk is the drink of choice to accompany this meal.

SETTING 

To underline and to enhance the vision of the rye bread roll cake and the buns, a special setting was designed which consists of a few items easily erected after breakfast and taken down before dinner.

A CHOPPING BLOCK FOR RYE BREAD ROLL CAKE

To reflect Þórbergur´s compulsion for measuring, a special chopping block was designed for the rye bread roll cake. There are markings on the block so that exactly three centimetre slices may be cut. In the design, the emphasis was on making an object made with great craftsmanship from good material. The chopping block has legs so it stands slightly raised from the table and this gives it a slightly more ceremonious appearance. When the chopping block is used, a dramatic ceremony of sorts is created.

PRINTED MATERIAL

Work was done with the connection to Þórbergur´s literature and the form of the book, where the look and the atmosphere of the page became the main inspiration. The building which houses Þórbergssetur is exactly like an enlarged bookshelf with books. All graphics and printed matter is therefore black and white. Black text on white paper. References from Þórbergur´s books and texts about Þórbergur play a key role in the printed material. The aim is to enhance the connection with Þórbergur´s work and thereby enhance the cultural experience of the guests. Classic printed typography is used, typography which is very readable, whether big or small.

ABDUCTION BAGS FOR BUNS

White paper bags with printed quotations from Þórbergur´s text and from essays on him. There are four quotations in all and in these various events and stories are related. However, they all have a connection to the ideology of the refreshments and the restaurant. The quotations are on the front of the bags and are from the Wunderkind and tell of The Great Summer of Rain when Þórbergur desired nothing more than to have money for an ice cold glass of milk and a newly baked bun. The other quotation is from a Pétur Gunnarsson essay about Þórbergur and tells of his compulsion for measuring. In the middle of the bag on the front there is a space where the person who serves the buns writes by hand how many centimetres the customer has bought of buns. With this ceremony, to write the number of centimetres of buns, there is a reference to Þórbergur´s compulsion for measuring and at the same time, the customer experiences the size of the buns in a new way. On the back of the bag, there is a quotation from Steinarnir tala, where Þórbergur describes how rye bread and ember breads were baked at Hali. Following on from this, there is a text on the ideology of the restaurant in Þórbergssetur.

MENUS

Two types of menus have been designed, one for the service counter where rye bread roll cake and buns are served up and a different kind of menu for the tables in the dining hall. The menu on the service counter is printed onto thick carton folded in two so that it stands independently. The menus on the tables are like the bags with quotations and fractions of text from Þórbergur and about Þórbergur, for the education and pleasure of guests. All prices are handwritten on to the menu which gives a personal tone and also refers to the handwriting on the bun bags. It is therefore easy to print a new menu and fill it in if prices need to be changed. 

SERVICE COUNTER

To underline both the quality of the produce used in the food as well as the experience itself, it is suggested that the front of the service counter be laid with a white tablecloth. A white tablecloth refers to the hearty feast which guests are invited to experience in Þórbergssetur. Bun box and chopping board stand on the service counter. A sales person serves the buns from the box and cuts the roll cake on the chopping block. The sauce is then poured over. 

It is suggested that all tables in the dining room be laid with a white table cloth in order to create a stronger image for the dining room.

ORGAN STRIKE CHAISE LOUNGES

After meals, Þórbergur´s organs often striked and rested for a while. The design team suggested that chaise lounges be set up outside Þórbergssetur marked as “Organ Strike Chaise Lounge” and thereby referring to this good habit of Þórbergur´s. Guests can thus allow their organs to strike and rest a while after their refreshments. The idea is simple in execution and there is very little trouble around it. 

DELIVERY - ERUPTION IN GRÍMSVÖTN

In spring 2011, a part of the team set off to Hali to deliver the project and review the production process with the farmers. Unfortunately, that same day, an eruption occurred in Grímsvötn. The group was stranded at Núpur right under the eruption. The black ash was blinding and rescue squads could not arrive for many hours. The Hotel in Núpur was filling up with ash. Outside, the ash chafed the windows as if a sandpit had been upended against them. Despite this, it was still possible to order a glass of white wine and smoked salmon at the Hotel restaurant which was a very peculiar experience. Fortunately, we emerged from the ash cloud and got to Reykjavík the next day. It was a while before Hali was reachable again. A month later, we repeated the trip but then flew east to Höfn and drove from there to Hali. Þorbjörg and her staff were quick to learn the ropes from Kjartan and Örvar. It is clear that the cutting of the rye bread needs to be made easier with a special knife and develop of the rye bread recipe is also a consideration to make it better suited for roll cake. The summer traffic had now begun and there was little space to maneouver to adapt and test new products. It was therefore decided to wait until spring 2012 to introduce the menu formally.

PRODUCT

The Designers and Farmers Project developed a menu for Hali in Suðursveit; a menu which reveals to Þórbergssetur restaurant guests, the radiance of eccentricity of Þórbergur Þórðrson, the writer, who was born and brought up there. The aim is that guests can experience “heaven in the gut” as Þórbergur did before. Þórbergur had a great love of buns and the menu offers delicious sweet cinnamon buns and rye bread roll cakes with filling made from lamb paté or Arctic charr. The rye bread roll cakes are served with beetroot sauce or orange/carrot sauce. Þórbergur´s eccentricity and his compulsion for measurement provided inspiration to the design team for the setting for the serving of the refreshments. In particular the chopping block, which is a wooden chopping board for the roll cake.

The aim with these specially designed refreshments is to create a uniqueness for the restaurant in Þórbergssetur and to make people stop there particularly for the refreshments. The hope is that the refreshments become classics and a model in the market for regional produce, where local produce and cultural reference is utilised. Tourists increasingly seek experience through food on their travels around the country and it can have a great deal of impact on the reputation of a place how tourists experience the refreshments served.