Carefully selected ingredients and intelligent design from Iceland's very own bean-to-bar operation
by Graham Hiemstra in Food + Drink on 21 April 2014
Many dream of opening a restaurant, or starting their own culinary-centric company, but few have the experience or knowledge to do so. This was not the case for Kjartan Gíslason, a chef-turned-chocolatier and co-owner of Omnom Chocolate; Iceland's newest bean-to-bar operation. Since September 2013, Gíslason and his three close friends (Óskar Þórðarson, Karl Viggó Vigfússon, André Úlfur Visage) have been running their startup out of a disused gas station—a small multistory building actually perfectly suited for such a pursuit. Here—in a modest kitchen outfitted with steel shelving and counters custom made by another friend—they turn high-quality organic cacao beans from exotic locales like Madagascar, Papa New Guinea and the Dominican Republic into small batch bars of dark, light and blonde chocolates. And failing to mention the excellent packaging off the bat would be remiss.
As the first thing a consumer sees, the packaging is important to Gíslason—and he was keen to make sure it made a lasting impression while expressing the playful, positive vibe of the brand. This part of the project also offered the opportunity Gíslason to work with longtime friend André Úlfur Visage, a South African-born graphic designer and digital artist now based between Cape Town and Reykjavik. The vibrant designs center around a motif Visage has been playing with for years. The wolf icon is derived from the Icelandic word for wolf, Úlfur, which coincidently is Visage's middle name. And the name Omnom? "It's the sound the Cookie Monster makes. It's in the dictionary—'om nom nom,'" laughs Visage. "Though that was all Kjartan's idea."
As for what's under the attractive wrapping, the chocolate is made from carefully selected batches of beans from the Caribbean, South America, Asia and Africa—as one would expect regional supplies change with the seasons, making each batch Omnom produces different. While starting in his kitchen at home, Gíslason and his team now hand-sort, roast, crack, winnow and ground each batch at Omnom HQ to achieve a unique flavor, texture and consistency. "It's the flavors that really excite us—the different variation of beans and the regions and how you roast them, it's always evolving. Just like cheese or beer or wine, it's always changing," he says.
The very nature of the small batch process gives way to a perfectly inconsistent product. After the refining session, the chocolate is "punched," meaning it's just being moved around without any pressure. Here is where the flavors really begin to develop. "The bitterness and acidity is evaporating, so more of the flavors mature and become a bit more complex," explains Gíslason. After the chocolate has cooled, it's left to set for a few weeks before tempering. As time passes, the profile settles into its own. "By then, what you taste and what you tasted two weeks prior has evolved—there's something different. It's a little bit more complex. It's never the same. You find little differences, so that's the kind of stuff that excites me about working with chocolate," he continues. "I like the inconsistency—sometimes it's not as flavorful as it was the first week, but there's something else there. I think it will take a couple more years of experience to get everything together, but that's what I love about it."
There are currently six varieties in Omnom's selection, with an inside tip that more may be in the works. And of course, only raw cane sugar is added, bringing the ingredient list up to three: organic cacao beans, raw cane sugar, cacao butter. (Make that four, when Icelandic milk is added to milk chocolate varieties.) Visit the newly launched Omnom webstore where individual bars sell for 1,300 KR (roughly $12). Or if you're based in NYC, visit Omnom's sole North American stockist, Búdin coffee shop in Greenpoint. For a closer look behind the scenes see the slideshow.
Lead image courtesy of Omnom, all others by Graham Hiemstra
A taxman tribute, our 420 playlist, DJ Spooky's #PrivateJam and more in the music we tweeted this week
by CH Editors in Listen Up on 20 April 2014
Grace Jones: Me! I Disconnect From You
Model turned new wave R&B diva, Grace Jones remains on heavy rotation at clubs around the world, but for many its her covers that stand out most. Jones reinterprets songs with a certain refined soulfulness that gives even the most familiar track a new allure. Her previously unreleased take on Tubeway Army's "Me! I Disconnect From You" is Jones in her element, injecting her brand of assertive vocals over a stripped-down dub backing. To celebrate Record Store Day, the track will be available on vinyl for the first time from Island Records through an expanded reissue of her 1981 LP Nightclubbing.
Junior Parker: Taxman
Tuesday, 15 April was Tax Day in the States, and depending on where residents fall on the country's economic scale, some received a small chunk of change in return for year-long investment while others had to give up some hard-earned cash. To punctuate the dubious occasion, we gave a listen to Junior Parker's slowed down, soulful rendition of The Beatles' "Taxman," which reminds us that while we may not always know what it's for, just be thankful he doesn't take it all because in reality, he can come for it any time he wants it. And file those extensions because if you don't want to pay, you'll just pay some more.
For this week's #PrivateJam, DJ Spooky—the man who exemplifies the idea of the disc jockey as artist and creator of new music—cited Prince's epic seven-minute jam "Controversy" as the song he'd be "really embarrassed to be caught doing air guitar to." He says, "I remember when Purple Rain and stuff like that came through. I always felt it was reaalllly slick and pop. When I was a kid, I liked more independent and underground music like Fugazi or Minor Threat and Bad Brains, and didn't like pop that much. But there's something about Prince…" There's no better guitar legend to air guitar to, we'd say.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of Nas' (aka Nasir Jones) seminal debut album Illmatic, which remains equally relevant today. The record—permeated with thoughtful and poetic lyrics, performed in Nas' trademark gravelly and passionate voice—is often credited with bringing East Coast hip-hop back into the raw fold and paving the way for the likes of the Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. One listen to "NY State of Mind" and it's clear why the Queensbridge artist became a hip-hop icon—his first recordings have the refined clarity and lyrical range of a songwriting veteran. The anniversary coincides with both special vinyl releases for Record Store Day and commemorative documentary "Time is Illmatic," which kicked off this year's TriBeCa Film Festival.
Cool Hunting's 24 Songs for 4/20
Today marks the annual cannabis lover's holiday, fondly known as 420. To celebrate, we've selected 24 tunes that are sure to put you in a festive mood whether you're a casual toker or a self-declared pothead—or (questionably) neither of these. With legalization sweeping much of the United States and acceptance among most of the modern world, there's even more reason to roll up a fatty and enjoy the positive vibes put forth by musicians across all genres. So crumble some herb and take a hit from the bong or burn one down—just be sure to pass the dutchie to the left-hand side.
ListenUp is a Cool Hunting series published every Sunday that takes a deeper look at the music we tweeted throughout the week. Often we'll include a musician or notable fan's personal favorite in a song or album dubbed #PrivateJam.
Lego Simpsons, Earth's new twin planet, a 13-year-old eagle huntress and more in our weekly look at the web
by CH Editors in Link About It on 19 April 2014
Fingerprints aren't the most secure password—as any decent crime film shows, you leave them everywhere. Vein geometry, however, has been shown to be just as unique as fingerprints—even differing in twins—and could be a safer alternative. Palm-vein scanners have already been produced, and even integrated in laptops; the future has already arrived at Sweden's Lund University, where a student has developed a vein pattern payment system in stores and eateries. Forgot your phone or wallet at home? Just stick out your wrist and get it scanned.
2. Earth Twin
NASA's Kepler planet-finding mission kept track of over 150,000 stars in search of a world that might just be like Earth. Its recently shared discovery, the planet Kepler 186f, happens to be exactly that. A little bigger and a little cooler, the planet falls in the "Goldilocks zone" of stellar orbit, meaning that under the right circumstances, not only will it have liquid water, but it's potentially habitable. At 500 light-years away, scientists are speculating on the exact conditions to the best of their ability. But of the 962 confirmed planets found during this mission, Kepler 186f truly stands out.
3. The Imaginary Records of Famed Footballers
Athletes' forays into music have a dubious history. From Shaq's shameful rap album to the unquestionably soulful jazz of classically trained guitarist and Yankee switch-hitter Bernie Williams, the colorful characteristics brought out in the heat of the game don't always translate in the studio. NY-based graphic artist James Taylor channeled the on-field personalities of the world's most famous footballers—from Pelé to David Beckham—for a series of imaginary record covers that translate their pitch performance to a corresponding music style—ranging from sunny Brazilian Bossa Nova to the mania-inducing Brit pop of the Beatles to moody French new wave à la Zinedine Zidane.
4. In Photos: A 13-year-old Eagle Huntress
Western Mongolia is the only place in the world where golden eagles—taken from their nests as eaglets and carefully trained—are used to hunt hares and small game in the rugged, arid terrain. While documenting the coming-of-age process of 13-year-old boys learning the esteemed practice, photographer Asher Svidensky met Ashol-Pan, perhaps the region and the world's only eagle huntress apprentice. Svidensky's photos are inspiring on many levels. From the astounding beauty of the Mongolian landscape, to Ashol-Pan's unfettered joy, concentration and bond with her hunting partner, these photos are a must-see as they illustrate the breadth of humanity as well as shifting gender norms in a place that appears removed from history.
5. Tom of Finland Stamps
On the heels of a retrospective at MoCA Los Angeles comes a smaller celebration of Finnish artist Tom of Finland. Responsible for inspiring the style of Freddie Mercury and the Village People, the internationally known, post-war artist is greatly admired for his progressive works surrounding homoeroticism. Now residents in Finland can pay tribute with a set of stamps, which will surely add an expressive touch to mail sent from the Nordic country when they're released this fall.
6. 10 Best Mobile Games of PAX East 2014
As we further our attachment to mobile devices, the world of app video games expands in turn. It's becoming an exciting sphere to monitor—particularly for the advancement in graphics. Tech site Evolve hit up the recent Pax East convention and highlights the top 10 mobile games they found there, which span titles from "Hitman Go" to "The Phantom Pi" and "World Zombination."
7. The Simpsons Lego Minifigures
The much-rumored and highly anticipated Simspons' LEGO minifigs have finally been revealed. All 16 characters, including Itchy and Scratchy, are fully detailed and accessorized—and vastly superior to the last Lego Simpsons offering. They won't be on shelves until the Lego episode of "The Simpsons" on 4 May, when each will then retail for $4.
8. Coffee, Cameras and a Cafe
About 40 miles outside of Seoul, you won't find a Starbucks but a café shaped like a vintage Rolleiflex twin-lens camera. Named The Dreaming Camera, it wasn't built to be a tourist attraction or even a regular coffee shop—instead the Korean couple who own it wanted to share their love for photography, but even more importantly, inspire visitors to realize their own goals. Their current method is to take Polaroids of customers and ask them to write down their personal dreams, a poetic way to get them to pay attention to their own hearts.
Link About It is our filtered look at the web, shared daily on Twitter and published weekly every Saturday morning.