Love may have brought Icelandic Chef Arnór Bjarkason to Vilnius, but his simple, flavor-forward dishes have earned him a following that goes far beyond borders. While the new head chef at Hotel Pacai doesn’t like to label his food, he is passionate about Nordic cuisine with a Japanese touch. His zero-waste, seasonal kitchen serves up such dishes as scallop, tosazu, green onions, and apple; “Harðfiskur” dried cod with brown butter and pickled seaweed; and beef tartare, chives, pickled black currant & fennel in a fermented milk, black currants, and chive oil sauce. We had a brief chat with the self-confessed coffee addict about his move from Iceland to Lithuania and his cooking philosophy.
I asked a friend of mine when I arrived in Vilnius if she knew anyone looking for a chef, and I was in luck. She told me about Pacai and got me an interview with Ruta Pulkauninkaite-Macike, the general manager of the hotel.
The move to Vilnius has been very smooth. Luckily my fiancé is from here so there hasn’t been much stress as she has been very helpful. I love that the city is so easy to get around, and being from Iceland I think the weather here is wonderful.
When I make a dish, I don’t necessarily try to tell a story, but somehow, it happens. Maybe it’s just the nature telling its story—the ingredients sometimes simply speak for themselves, while at other times guests connect certain dishes to their childhood or their own memories.
I don’t think it’s too difficult. We order everything with the thought to use the whole. Of course, there are some off cuts, but we manage to find ways to use everything.
My style hasn’t changed that much, but the choice of ingredients and knowledge has for sure changed the way I cook and the way I combine flavors together.
It’s hard to pick favorites, but at the moment I’m quite enjoying the cabbage starter we have on the menu. The cabbage is lightly blanched, then pan fried and dressed in an onion purée made with miso and ponzu, fermented cabbage, pistachio cream, and roasted pistachios.
Chef Arnór Bjarkason
I’m not necessarily the best forager, but what has helped me the most is looking through books. I recognize various herbs from cookbooks and there are also plenty of foraging books for both edible plants and mushrooms. Just make sure to triple-check every mushroom. Don’t to take chances and get sick.
Every time I see my dog Blues, the cutest puppy in the world. There is no one place or single thing that makes me the happiest, but rather it’s multiple things, like when my personal life, work, family, and friends are going well.