Designer Dinner

I know, I know. You haven’t heard from me a while and I am fully aware of it. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about, but quite the contrary. I’ve had some busy times lately and I promise tell you more about all of it. So bare with me! 😉

Where was I? Well, I’ve had some trips abroad, but mostly I’ve been working in Helsinki and Olo with some cool new things. Garden by Olo recently got a new menu and we’ve done cooperation with Helsinki Design Week and visiting chefs. Which is actually what I’m about to tell more about in this post.

It has recently been a hot topic, wether cooking and food can be art, and I find the question tricky too. What is art anyways? And is cooking a form of fine craftsmanship and can it be called art? I have given this some thought, and formed an opinion about it. I wouldn’t say I’m art-oriented in my work. But I admire and respect people with a passion and commitment for what they do. And this is what makes me admire artists so much. I really love watching documentaries and reading memoirs of those people, who have dedicated their life in doing what they love. These people let themselves be vulnerable and pour their heart into what they are creating, wether it is art or cooking. And this is what I call the art itself. In my opinion, it is more interesting, than the actual product of their creativity.

Kozeen Shiwan is a wonderfully talented Chef and Artist. I got to work with him at a pop-up we created together during Helsinki Design Week. And it was a great experience. It reminded me once again, how important thinking outside the box can be.

We met up before the event to discuss the menus and preparations. It was very easy to work with him and we learned a lot about each other in the process. We agreed on the type of menu we wanted to prepare for our guests and it hit me, how two Chefs of different age and style can work so smoothly on something so new. Everytime I work together with new people, new great things are born and I think that’s important in a Chef’s work. To be open to new things and perspectives and get away from that “bubble” you sometimes unintentionally are stuck in.

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Photo by Natalia Salmela / wtd.fi

Kozeen was fully in charge of the visuals, and he spent many hours on planning it. The pop up was opened a few weeks ago in our Creative Kitchen on Helenankatu 2, which I think was the perfect place for it. The atmosphere was intimate and Kozeen’s work on on the decoration made it even more special. We had our individual dishes in the menu, but we both did some slight modifications and changes of plating during the dinners. You know, when you’re in a creative flow, this mode where you get new ideas on the run, why not do what feels right? I’ve always wanted to have everything planned out and strictly stick with it until the end. but it was refreshing to be working this way for a change.

The experience gave me a lot. As a Chef and as a person. And based on the feedback, those two weekends were a success amongst our guests too. Kozeen is a rising new talent who’s not afraid to challenge himself and his audience in a pure and honest way. I can truly say, that I learned something from him and hope, that I was able to give something back as well. Learning is one of the greatest things in working together. I’m positive, that we’ll be back soon enough, working on some new menus and concepts. Helsinki Design Week is a great event and it gives a stage and a meeting point for people who have the courage to share their passion. And be vulnerable in a way that inspired others.

On competitions and winning

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Photo: Santeri Stenvall

People ask me a lot about chef competitions. What they are for and why should there be more of them.

I’ve been involved with some during my career and some step out more than others due to the great experiences and friends they’ve given me. When we talk about competitions, for me it’s not necessarily about the winning, but more about learning new things, improving your skills and yourself, connecting with other chefs and just having a good time in the process.

When I was younger, I competed at the Finnish Chef of the Year competition, but with no great result or points, since I was still too unexperienced. In hindsight, I got so many learnings from it. Later I spent 5 years in the Finnish national chefs’ team, and I could say that’s one of the best experiences I’ve had during my career. I developed myself so much and got a bunch of new life-long friends. I’ve also got to follow the Bocuse d’Or from short distance and it has been a great adventure.

Competitions are important in our field (and in any creative field), because it gives the industry the awareness and respect it deserves. There are so many talented chefs out there, that should be given the stage to shine with their profession, rather than being hidden anonymously in the kitchen. Fortunately, being hidden is not always the case, but sometimes chefs would deserve more visibility. Of course, winning is also a great thing, and it mostly affects the popularity of the chef and the restaurant he/she works in. So I cannot say, it’s not good for business, as well.

What I’ve heard from chefs, and especially young competing chefs, is that those experiences give self-esteem and team player skills. And I can really relate to this with my own experience. Competitions are also a great boost for employment possibilities. Amazing new talents get discovered at competitions all the time, and it’s great to see new generations grow and get to bring out their own creativity and new ideas. These are the things that bring gastronomy forward and keeps it fresh.

There are a few people, that I’d like to mention when talking about competitions. It’s those friends, colleagues, mentors and apprentices, that I respect most in my field of work. Many of them I’ve got the honor to meet and learn from at various contests.

Ilkka LÀÀveri, is the guy I would call one of the most loyal and dedicated colleagues I’ve got to work with. If I’d have to clone one person to work with me at all times, it would definitely be him. Eero Vottonen, the previous Bocuse d’Or representative, is one of the most talented chefs in whole of Finland and I’ve had a real pleasure of following his journey in the competition. He is one of those chefs who is not afraid to say his mind and I appreciate a challenging attitude like that. Matti JĂ€msĂ©n has competed in the Bocuse d’Or and is now the president of the Finnish team. He is one of those chefs that is born to be involved with competitions. He is ambitious and a real team player. My first jedi, Tuomas VierelĂ€, is a great example of a natural talent that somehow incredibly absorbs information from around him and makes it his own. He is one of the most impressive young chefs I’ve ever got to teach and work with and now I’m proud to see him master his thing the way he does.

Thinking to attend a competition, but you’re not completely sure, wether you should do it? I say go for it and I mean it.

P.s. Speaking of! I’ll be judging at Finland’s first Dessert Master competition this year. The application period is open until the end of April and you can apply here.

 

Balancing (my day)

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They make tv shows and movies about the stressful and fast-paced days of chefs and cooks. And I get it. It’s interesting for people to see how far someone can take their ambition and what sacrifices they need to make to make it to where they are.

I have made sacrifices and compromises myself, and I still do every day. When I started in Olo, I would have left my grandmother’s dining table if they called me from work. It was my number one priority. Since then, I’ve learned to ease a little bit, but my mind is rarely away from the kitchen.

Time management and prioritisation. Those I’ve had to work on. You need to have balance in life. But even chefs are not super human. It’s also about team work and trust at your workplace and elsewhere as well. Everyone has their purpose and you need to be willing to accept help. Work, exercise, food, sleep, family and friends are the things you balance with and it doesn’t always go as planned. Here’s my regular work day (that might stretch out quite a bit).

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7:00
I usually wake up when my kids do. I have two daughters, that go to school every morning and I help them get ready. I haven’t had breakfast in like ten years. Even now, I just have a quick protein shake in the car on my way to work and while waiting in traffic. My kids do, of course. They even know how to prepare their own breakfast.  I might go to the gym or have a run in the morning – if I have the time and the energy. Having a run sets me off pretty well, actually, and I have most of my inspiration and ideas from running in the forest.

11:00
I get to work around 10 or 11. At eleven we have our kitchen brief. That’s when we discuss the details concerning lunch, ingredients, the mise en place.

11:30
Our lunch starts. However, I don’t need to supervise the whole time. I sometimes do paperwork during the day, but I usually try to get that over with on Mondays, when I have my day off. Because every minute spent in front of the computer and with paperwork is a minute away from the kitchen – where I feel the most comfortable.

15:30
Staff lunch is something I wouldn’t miss a single day. Our restaurant is closed between lunch and dinner and that’s when the restaurant tables are occupied with staff. Lunch may be pasta, fish soup or anything ordinary we come up with. I will write about this a bit more later, I think.

17:15
It’s time for the second brief of the day. That is when we go through our dinner reservations, menus and possible special diets. The briefs are important for communication reasons and they also act as a pep talk before service. It’s great and we all get a lot of energy from it.

19:00 (The most popular time for guests to arrive for dinner)
The day goes by quite slowly with menu planning, ordering ingredients and having meetings. During dinner service, everything changes. That’s when the show begins. I move around in the restaurant building quite a lot, since we have three different kitchens in our building. I do rounds and make sure everything is under control at all times – even under stress and busy hours. These hours go by in a blink of an eye.

00:00
At around midnight, I feel like I’ve given everything and it’s time to go home. I live outside the city, so it takes a while before I get home. Parking is a nightmare in the centre, so sometimes it even takes time to find my car. Also, because it’s late and my brain refuses to function properly. Not to worry, because when I get home, there might be an abandoned cup of coffee I forgot to finish in the morning. Waiting for me at the counter. And after a good slug, I’m back in the game writing menu ideas and maybe a few thoughts for my blog. I’m kind of a night person.

As time goes by, your work and your colleagues become your family in a way and you end up spending a lot of time with them. Still, being at home is essential and my days off are fully and entirely dedicated to my family in Espoo. Those days include morning omelettes, my daughter’s gymnastics class and maybe a visit to grandparents house.

What’s your regular day like?

 

Pop up

MĂ€nttĂ€ is a small town in Central Finland, about 250 km North from Helsinki. Food Camp Finland held its fourth Food & Art Festival there this August and we were happy to participate with our own pop up restaurant. MĂ€nttĂ€ is a special place with beautiful nature, famous art museums and an amazing restaurant. Restaurant Gösta is run by Chef and Restaurateur, Henry Tikkanen, and it is part of our Olo Group family. I’d never been to MĂ€nttĂ€ before – and it was about time.

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I drove to MĂ€nttĂ€ with Anssi and a fully loaded car. The first day was all about preparation and getting ready for the next few days. We were doing the mise en place at a local culinary school, which was perfect with its premises and helping hands. After a long day, we got to enjoy the local lakeside and spend some time with the other chefs, that were invited to take part in the event. One of the them was Michel Bras, a chef that has been an inspiration for me and many others. His book is the bible for many chef students and he has been a real pioneer in his field. Many modern cooking techniques and use of ingredients derive from him and it’s needless to say, I was honored to meet him.

The next days were exciting in many ways. Our Olo pop up was held for three nights in Autereen tupa, an idyllic little wooden house next to the famous Serlachius museum Gösta. It normally serves as a cafĂ© for museum guests. An intimate and cozy place, I would say. The kitchen was not something we were used to, and even if it didn’t give us much room to move around, it gave us a lot of room to improvise. In the end, the intimacy turned out to be an advantage, since it made our guests feel like home. Me and my colleagues stepped out of the kitchen quite often and we even sat down with the guests to chat with them.

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The experience was different, it was exceptional, but most of all, it was fun. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be scary but so rewarding. And I realize it over and over again as I do something new and crazy like this.

These pop up excursions always have their challenges (logistics, new kitchen etc.), but in the end, they’re always worth the extra trouble. Going to a new working environment is not only super inspiring but you get to know your colleagues better. For me, one of the best things was to be able to spend some time with two of my closest colleagues, Harri and Anssi, outside our own kitchen in Olo. We got home with tons of new ideas and I can’t wait for you to see what we’ve come up with.

Photos: Julius Konttinen

At the source

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From day one, Olo made the decision of hand picking only the highest quality products there are. When we scout new products, we look at location, taste and the people behind them. The people make a huge difference. You just know it when somebody does something with their heart. And the outcome can only be great.

I had the pleasure of visiting DeliVerde’s gardens in Turku a few weeks back. We and my colleagues from our sibling restaurants drove a few hours from Helsinki to the West and ended up in the gardens of the Lindroth family. Lindroth’s gardens aka DeliVerde produces greens of all sorts. Lettuce, root vegetables and herbs. You may know them from your local store or from the little stall from the Turku market square, that has been there from the very beginning of the Lindroth story. We’ve used their products for about three years now and it was about time for me to actually go and see where the produce comes from. It is so hard to organize field trips like this, since it’s nearly impossible to detach a chef from his kitchen for a whole day. Yet, we finally did it.

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The day started with getting to know the fields and getting our hands dirty. That’s right. We had a few guys over there to capture the special moment on camera (the video will follow later). I got to ride a tractor, which I think was one of the highlights of the day. The last time I drove a tractor was 35 years ago at my grandmother’s farm in KorvenkylĂ€, Joutseno. I can remember the farm pretty clearly. Life was different back then and people spent much more time outside than they do now. When there were only two channels on tv and it was much more fun to pick carrots and peas outside on the field.

Liisa and Hannu Lindroth live right next to their fields and greenhouses. They inherited the land and continued to grow it. Now their children are working there with them, which I think is pretty great. We were walked through the whole place and history. And ate fresh root vegetables from the ground. I’ve never tasted cauliflower so sweet and I think the environment and the good company might have had something to do with it too. The Lindroth’s are amazing people full of passion and it was nice to spend some quality time with my colleagues. Another highlight of the day really was to actually be able to spend time with my fellow chefs outside the kitchen. I don’t really see them outside work and as a father of two, I try to spend as much time at home as possible.

During the day, we all got a reminder on how important quality and freshness is, when it comes to our ingredients. They first need to be grown with love and great care. What happens after that, is as important. We do not buy our products from wholesale, but rather buy straight from the producer. We only order the amount we need and use the products immediately without storing. This is how we ensure freshness.

Thank you to Liisa and Hannu and the whole DeliVerde team. It was a great day and I hope to visit you again really soon!

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Olo Garden is open

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The opening day was Friday 3rd of March. That day at around noon, our inner courtyard still looked like it was run through by a truck. It did not look ready at all. But you would be surprised what a difference a few hours can make. The menus were printed one hour before opening and I was still making some tiny adjustments in the very last minute. I was a bit nervous.

It now feels silly, the nervousness. I believed in the concept from day one. I mean, I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. Still, I was anxious to see if people are going to show up. And I think every restaurateur can relate to that feeling.

Now that we’ve been open for some time, I can say that I’m really happy how Olo Garden turned out. It is just the kind of high-end restaurant without the stiffness this city needs. I also like the fact that we now have a cocktail bar and a real professional behind the cocktail list. We are lucky to have Paula Lundell with us. Some of our guests that have visited Garden have just sat by the bar counter the whole evening. And that’s just what we wanted – for our guests to make that choice, weather they sit by the bar, in the lounge area or more traditionally by the dining table.

The inner courtyard has gone through quite a change. We’ve got new furniture, a whole new setup and we’ve brought in some greens. We also have a long bar counter that is, by the way, useful in many ways. Apart from being a place to spend your evening sipping on colorful cocktails, the bar counter is super useful in preparing bread. Our boys always need like 4 meters of counter space for preparing our portioned sourdough bread. It’s great!

Garden’t menu really seems to please our guests. Like I mentioned earlier, the menu of Olo Garden is a bit more adventurous than the menus in Restaurant Olo and Creative Kitchen. Kim Mustonen has done a great job with it and I couldn’t be more proud. I like to see Olo Garden getting busier every day. It means we’ve done something right.

P.s. Come and visit us Saturday 20th of May. We’re having an Open doors event in our restaurant.
https://www.facebook.com/events/1885678295004579/

 

Olo Garden

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been busy with testing new dishes in the middle of a renovation. Me and my colleague Kim Mustonen have been quite experimental in the kitchen. Aside from Nordic flavors, we’ve worked with Asian and Middle-Eastern flavors. Can you imagine eating kimchi in Olo? I didn’t believe it until now, but yes, it will be possible in our new restaurant. Me and Kim have looked outside the box and I have to say, it has been a lot of fun. Like I said earlier, my colleagues are everything when it comes to creating something new.

It has been exactly a year since I was in Japan with my co-workers Heikki & Kim. I still think about those times with a smile on my face. That trip also reflects to my food. I think I’ve added some Japanese elements to the new menu both consciously and subconsciously. And when I think about it, there are a lot of similarities between Nordic and Asian food. It’s minimalistic but ambitious.

So what is our new restaurant like? It’s simple, delicious and cheery.

Those are the words that, in my opinion, describe Olo Garden. It is like the adventurous little sister of Olo. A casual meeting place, where our guests can have a cocktail and some snacks – or enjoy a longer dinner, if they wish. And most importantly – decide for themselves and have a good time. Our dishes can be eaten with hands at the bar, on the couch or at a dining table.

The idea of Olo Garden was born some time ago in a meeting where me and my fellow restaurateurs were brainstorming about our inner courtyard. It is such a unique place and it has mostly been used for private events. The idea of opening a new restaurant came up and we didn’t need to think twice –  it was a no-brainer. So here we are, a day before opening and I can’t believe how fast time has passed.

I still have a lot of work to do before tomorrow and I can’t say I’m not nervous. But it’s a good kind of nervous.