Direction DAGNÝ B. GÍSLADÓTTIR Photos KATRÍN BJÖRK / MONIKA EISENBART
Born and bred in Akureyri in North Iceland, Katrín Björk now lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her Danish husband and two children. She has made a name for herself as a food photographer, and her wildly popular blog Modern Wifestyle has garnered worldwide attention. Her work has appeared in major culinary magazines around the world, and she recently released her first cookbook From the North, an ode to the culinary heritage of her Nordic homelands.
How did you get into photography?
I moved to Copenhagen in 2002 to study photography, but my aim was always to become a filmmaker. I worked in the Danish film industry for several years, but in 2009 I decided it wasn’t a good fit for me. So I pulled a complete 180 and went back to photography.
And did the blog come about afterwards?
After I left the film industry and started finding my way as a photographer again, I had more time on my hands, which I used for cooking and to create a beautiful home. My husband suggested that I start a blog about the food I was making and my work on our home. I launched Modern Wifestyle in 2011 while still in Copenhagen with the intent of making a design and lifestyle blog. And on a whim I posted a recipe, which was such a big hit that there was no simply no turning back. After just a few weeks the blog had fully become a food blog. Things just snowballed from there, and the blog became a fulltime job. For a long time Icelanders were my biggest readership, but Americans and Canadians have since surpassed them. Being a photographer has been my greatest asset when it comes to the blog as my food photography has opened a lot of doors. That said, it took an enormous amount of time and effort to master food photography, but I’ve now photographed for all the major culinary magazines in the US. Over the holidays in 2016, just a few months after I’d moved from Copenhagen to New York, I even got picked up by Martha Stewart and made a series of Christmas videos for her.
Has cooking always come naturally to you?
I’ve always cooked but it never occured to me to go to culinary school or do anything else connected with food. I remember cooking as a child with my grandmother and grandfather and baking in the kitchen at home. I always liked helping out in the kitchen and baking when I was growing up. And when I moved away from home I kept it up, and I’ve enjoyed throwing dinner parties ever since. But I had a real light-bulb moment when the blog took off and I had started taking these gorgeous food pictures. It dawned on me that I could marry these two skills, food and photography. And of course the more I cook, the better I get at it and the more fun it becomes, so there’s certainly no turning back now.
How did your cookbook come to be?
The book deal popped up unexpectedly in the spring of 2017. I got an email from a publisher in the US who knew my blog and Instagram, and they asked me to write a cookbook. I had total control over what I wanted to do with it and it didn’t take long to decide I would write about what I knew best: my two homes, Iceland and Denmark. The book is called From the North because that’s always where I’m from in every sense, no matter where I am in the world. It’s available from Eymundsson booksellers in Iceland and, of course, on Amazon.com. I wrote it in English because I wanted to make it available to as wide an audience as possible.
Where do you get your inspiration and how do you approach cooking?
I like to say that if I can cook it then anyone can follow my recipe. I’m no chef, but rather a photographer who was born with a decent set of taste buds and grew up with a mother who always cooked lovely food. I make it point to keep recipes simple but at the same time create a fun experience and a tasty outcome.
When I was younger I admittedly had some hang-ups when it came to housewives, but today I am a self-proclaimed advocate for women and men who choose to spend their time creating a beautiful home and cooking for themselves and their friends and families. Here in the US it’s customary to eat out several times a week and rely on frozen meals and highly processed food. And I’m proud to be part of the countermovement that promotes cooking at home with good, clean ingredients.
Personally I draw a lot of inspiration from my childhood, when ate I fish from my grandfather several times a week and on the weekends we ate the wildfowl my father hunted. Although I’m not a hunter or fisherman myself, I like the idea of cooking and eating food that I buy direct from the source from producers I know. Knowing where my food comes from brings me great satisfaction in my cooking and lets me enjoy the food even more. And I try to bring out that cold, blue brightness in my photography because it reminds me of home.
What are you favorite Icelandic ingredients?
It’s a tough call between fish and lamb, but besides that I really enjoy using ingredients like rhubarb, blueberries, angelica and birch to conjure up a flavor that reminds you of a brisk walk through Icelandic shrubland. And I really miss the water. Everyday I dream of a tall, ice cold glass of Icelandic water right from the tap.