At first, when Áslaug Warmboe’s family told her she was going to be on TV, she thought it was a joke. Then she started getting calls from New York, from the people in charge of making the Cooking Channel show, “My Grandmother’s Ravioli.”
The show features host Mo Rocca as he seeks to learn how to make treasured family dishes from grandparents around the country. He travels to each person’s home and uses their own kitchen and their own special utensils to make the dishes.
Warmboe, 87, had never heard of the show before her family told her she would be featured on it. They were the ones who suggested the network consider an episode on Warmboe and her traditional Icelandic cooking.
“My grandson turned me in,” she said.
Warmboe was born and raised in Iceland, and although her mother was a fantastic cook, she said, she hadn’t thought much about cooking until after she came to the U. S.
“I never cooked in Iceland,” she said. “I was 22 when I came to this country and couldn’t care less about cooking.”
That’s not to say that she didn’t know how, though. In 1964, about eight years after she arrived in Minnesota, she got a job with the Hastings school district. She started in the kitchens, she said, and saw the job turn into a 30-year career. She worked at Hastings Middle School and at Pinecrest Elementary, and for 10 years was the lead cook at Hastings High School. For six years, she was the district’s food service director.
And through it all, Warmboe continued cooking the traditional Icelandic foods she grew up with for her family here.
Cooking is a skill that she believes is innate.
“I think it’s something – either you’re a good cook or not,” she said. “Either you have it in you or not.”
She obviously has it. In 1986 she was featured in Redbook Magazine for making a type of bread that people have been making in Iceland for hundreds of years. She also showcased Icelandic food at the Alexander Ramsey House in St. Paul for many years.
And later this fall, she’ll have her cooking showcased for the whole nation to see on “My Grandmother’s Ravioli.”
“I would have never dreamed that anything like this was going to happen,” she said.
Last week, Warmboe and her family saw their Hastings kitchen turn into a film set. The film crew from “My Grandmother’s Ravioli,” including the show’s host, Mo Rocca, spent several hours in the home over the course of three days – June 30 to July 2.
The first day they didn’t spend much time there, Warmboe said, but Tuesday and Wednesday were long days. The crew would arrive at about 9 a.m. and would be there until 7:30 or 8 p.m., she said.
Leading up to the filming, Warmboe wasn’t sure she’d be up to the task. Just prior to the film crew’s arrival, she had been in Iceland, retrieving a special ingredient that can only be found there: smoked leg of lamb.
“We’ve been eating it for centuries,” she said, but it’s a dish that no one other than Icelanders seem to eat.
She spent three weeks in Iceland with one of her granddaughters, but early in the trip she suffered a painful herniated disc that will take two to three months to get better, she said.
Despite the pain, Warmboe was able to make it through the filming just fine.
“They were very kind to me,” she said of the film crew. “They made me rest a lot in between.”
Working alongside Mo Rocca and the rest of the crew was a pleasant experience.
“He is an absolutely wonderful person,” she said of the host.
“They were all so easy to work with. They just kind of led me through the whole thing.”
Warmboe earned a spot on the show in part because of her food, but that wasn’t the only reason.
“... we thought she had a very endearing personality and a really incredible life story,” wrote the show’s executive producer, Gideon Evans, in an email. “Of course her food played a part in the selection – you don’t often see many food shows highlight Icelandic delicacies. When we learned that Mo had a chance to taste rotten shark with some of Aslaug’s family (even she won’t touch it) we booked our trip to Hastings, Minnesota.”
While on camera, Warmboe taught Mo Rocca how to make an authentic Icelandic Christmas dinner. There was the smoked leg of lamb, or hangikjöt in Icelandic, which was cooked the day before the meal and served cold; mixed vegetables; a centuries-old bread recipe that’s similar to German pumpernickel, “but better tasting,” Warmboe said; Icelandic pancakes that are similar to crepes and filled with strawberry jam and cream; Brennivín, a traditional (but not well-loved) Icelandic liquor; and fermented shark, “hákarl,” which is made from a particular shark meat that has to rot before it’s safe to eat.
“It went fine,” Warmboe said of the meal.
Her family got to help a little as well. A couple of her granddaughters got to chip in filling the Icelandic pancakes, and almost the entire family – all the way down to her great-great-grandchild – showed up to share the meal on camera. Warmboe has four children, 10 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
It made for a full house, but that’s nothing new to Warmboe. Every Christmas, there’s about 26 to 30 people at the house to celebrate the holiday, she said.
Although Warmboe wasn’t sold on doing the show for herself, she had enough other reasons to go through with it.
“My grandchildren think it’s cool,” she said, “and so I did it for them. And also, I know there are so many old Icelandic descendants and they will just absolutely love this. So I also did it for my country.”
Warmboe has been involved in promoting the nation of her birth at all sorts of events, including the Festival of Nations. The show was an opportunity to spread Icelandic culture to even more people.
The episode featuring Warmboe will likely air on the Cooking Channel sometime this fall, although the show’s producers couldn’t specify exactly when Warmboe’s episode would be. The show’s third season begins Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. (central time). For more about the show, go to www.cookingchanneltv.com /shows/my-grandmothers- ravioli.html.