THE VIKING OF ICE CREAMInterviewed by Jo Reynolds
How long have you been in the area?
Where are your favourite local haunts?
We love The Oak. They're super friendly, their pizzas are great, and it's great to drink there with the boys. And Beirut Meza is one of the most underrated on Askew Road; amazing food; we eat there twice a month.
Where did you grow up?
Huddersfield in West Yorkshire. There are wonderful bits of Yorkshire and then there's Huddersfield. It's boring and it rains all the time. I couldn't wait to leave.
I've always had a thing for Vikings
You founded Bears Ice Cream Company with your wife, Vera, who's Icelandic. How did a Yorkshireman meet someone from Iceland?
I've always had a thing for Vikings. As a boy I loved the JORVIK Viking museum in York. When I left home I went travelling: Cornwall, then France, then Spain because we ran out of money and went somewhere that spoke English so we could get a job. I did PR for a nightclub and met these great people from Iceland who invited me over. I went there in 2003 and on my 21st birthday I met Vera. She found me annoying at first, but I stuck at it.
What are the major cultural differences?
The population of Iceland is tiny, only 320,000. 150 years ago some people still lived in mud houses, so everything is very new. I ran a restaurant in one of the oldest buildings in Reykjavik. It was only 130 years old. But because of this things work better over there; much better than here. Also there’s lots of snow, which I love.
Can you speak Icelandic?
Very badly. I can get by. But it was difficult to practice because if I made a mistake in what I was saying the response would come back in English. Everyone speaks English.
How do you say hello and thank you?
Hello is hallo and thank you is takk.
Why the name, Bears Ice Cream Company?
My daughter Mia has always been known as Baby Bear and we're Mummy Bear and Daddy Bear. Our logo (three bears) came from my tattoo. Vera helped me design it and I got it tattooed on my leg before we came up with the idea for the shop. Last summer a guy saw it and said, you must love their ice cream.
What was the biggest hurdle setting up an Icelandic ice cream parlour in London?
The fact that we were both working full-time and had a four-year-old daughter. Vera is a fashion designer and I was cooking 75 hours a week. Before we opened in Feb 2016, Mia used to come here after school and help us paint the walls.
What's different about Bears' ice cream?
It's soft serve, which means it's churned to order so it's softer than traditional English ice cream or gelato. It has much less fat, only 6%. And only 13% added sugar. Traditional ice cream is between 14 and 20% fat with 18 to 25% sugar. Frozen yoghurt can be 25 to 32% sugar.
What about the toppings?
If you want to be super healthy there's fresh fruit and nuts. But if you want a treat, the brownies are as healthy as we can make them and the chocolate is the best you can buy. The dark chocolate is from Tanzania and the milk chocolate's from Ghana, none of your Cadbury's rubbish.
What's the most popular topping?
Brownies. Or strawberries.
What's your favourite?
At the moment, my favourite is a cone dipped in dark chocolate and wasabi peas.
Are the toppings traditional or your culinary invention?
In Iceland they have a lot more sweets, but we go for the healthier options and we do signature cones, which they don't do, such as our Straw-beary, which is like Eton Mess with meringue, but with black pepper, thyme and sherry vinegar caramel.
Do you and Vera have specific roles?
Yes, I'm Vera's slave. No, I do the menu and sourcing and Vera does the branding and everything else. I suppose I'm front of house and she's the backbone. I'll do anything to avoid doing the accounts.
Before Bears, you were head chef at The Anglesea Arms. Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
Inadvertently my mum. She would always cook with us. She was a good baker but a rubbish cook. When she went back to work, I started cooking a lot more at home for my brother and sister to ease the workload. I found doing something with my hands very enjoyable. I’m not good at sitting down.
Who are your favourite chefs?
From America, Thomas Keller, whose book, The French Laundry changed everything. From here, Isaac McHale at The Clove Club and James Knappett of Bubbledogs with his Kitchen Table restaurant at the back.
Did anyone advise you against becoming a chef?
Everyone: my mother, my teacher, the head teacher. I really enjoyed school, but I get easily bored. I got good grades and they all wanted me to go to university but I didn't see the point. I'd had a paid job cooking since I was 16. It wasn't until I cooked for my mother at 23 when she agreed I'd done the right thing.
Do you miss cooking?
Massively but I'm not giving up any more time with my family. I've already lost five years of my daughter's life. No more. I still do pop-ups. I just did a tasting menu in Detour's for two dozen people and I do a secret supper club, but the trouble is: people want to eat at night when I want to be with my family.
Do you do all the cooking at home?
I try to. Vera's a very good cook and does brilliant risotto. I do a lot of Asian food, broth and noodles. It makes more sense for me to cook because I'm a lot quicker. And tidier.
Have you cooked for anyone famous?
The prime minister of Iceland, many years ago. As for in London there are many that live in this area and I’ve cooked for most of them. There’s a few that come into Bears regulary but I’m not big on dropping names.
From the TV, it seems that everyone wants to be a master chef. What's your best advice for aspiring amateurs?
Learn how to cook in a restaurant. Knock on the door of a decent restaurant. You may have to work for free as an intern, but you'll learn. TV shows make it all look so easy but cooking is a 60-hour week.
And everyone else wants to be a food entrepreneur. What's your advice for them?
Learn maths or you'll waste your money. And know your stuff. You can't lead people unless they know you can do what you're asking them to do.
What are your plans for the future?
Workwise, hopefully more Bears. And homewise, I'd like another Bear too.
Takk, Daddy Bear. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.
Interviewed May 2017