Iceland is where the forces of volcanoes and magma meet the powers of glaciers and frozen water. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in Hverageroi, the hot springs capital of the world and a 35-minute drive from Reykjavik. Here, boiling mud pots, hissing steam vents and gurgling hot springs surround ancient lava fields. The smell of sulphur lingers in the air.
The abundance of geothermal energy is used for more than just relaxing baths, however. Geothermal greenhouses produce flowers and vegetables. The earthly power heats houses and swimming pools. It also fuels the local ice-cream factory and laundromat.
But it is the local cuisine at Kjot og Kunst, cooked around geothermal steam vents, that captures my attention. The restaurant's location in the centre of town, near the Geothermal Park, provides access to steam from the hot springs, which is piped directly to their two kitchens – inside and outside.
Geothermal steam energy (170 C) is used to steam and flash cook your meal, and if you ask the chef, you can "follow your food" during preparations. According to the owners, this is the only place in the world where you can get such an earth-cooked meal.
I choose an entrée of baked chicken breast stuffed with peppers, tomatoes, and onions with a cream mushroom sauce, accompanied by a healthy serving of root vegetables and cauliflower.
About 10 minu--tes after ordering, I am told it is time to head outside. Wet clouds of geothermal steam whirl around the kitchen's bricks, providing a protective field against the cold wind. As I cinch my scarf ever tighter around my neck, I ask chef Olafur about the types of food that can be cooked by geothermal heat.
"We can cook everything that can be boiled or steamed, such as fish, meat and vegetables," he says.
His wife and partner, Anna Maria, adds: "Olafur has been experimenting for years with delicate things such as baking cakes and he has finally come up with the right way to do it. The sponge cake is something special as it is soft, tender and moist.
"For years and years, people in Iceland have been baking rye bread in the earth wherever they could find a hole hot enough," she adds. "In fact, that is why people settled here in Hverageroi in the first place."
I begin to wonder whether the sulphur odour will permeate the food.
"The food doesn't smell or taste of sulphur because the heat is as high as 170 C and the pressure is 14 kilobars," Anna Maria explains, adding that "the food is more tender and tastes better because the heat and pressure help to keep all the moisture in while keeping the nourishment and vitamins inside the steak, chicken or fish."
My meal proves to be moist, succulent and delicious. The chicken smacks of savoury and earthy flavours, pairing well with the peppers and root vegetables. But it is the baked potato that surprises me most: a tad crispy on the outside with a moist inside full of buttery flavour.
Clearly, they have this technique down to a science.