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

Mänttä 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. Mänttä 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 Mänttä before – and it was about time.

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I drove to Mänttä 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 café 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 Korvenkylä, 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.

 

Grateful

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The Michelin star is not a lifetime award – you need to re-earn it every year and every day. It should not be taken for granted.

You can actually compare a dinner service to a theater piece. The actors redo the play every night and at some point, it will be the 10th or the 20th time for them. But not for the audience. The guest is probably there for the first time and sometimes for the one and only time. Every single show counts and they all have to be equally good. Similarly, a restaurants reputation only lasts for a day and it has to be re-earned again and again.

They say that the first Michelin star is given purely based on the food. But I know that’s not true. Everything and everyone affects the dining experience. The food, the wine, the service.

I want to congratulate our whole team for the Michelin star, that we’ve earned for the 7th time now. I am proud to call all of you my colleagues.

Cheers!

Creating something new

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Let’s talk about menus and dishes. My life evolves around them quite a bit as you can tell based on my Instagram. Those dishes on my profile, well, not many of them have ended up in a menu. Looks isn’t everything and it all comes down to taste. The dish has to work on many levels.

First of all, I’m not a fan of menus that stay the same for days, weeks and even months. Our dishes change slightly every day. Sometimes it’s a must and is defined by seasonal ingredients. Sometimes its spontaneous and sometimes it just happens out of a spark of inspiration given by an ingredient, nature, people or just about anything.

I mostly get new ideas on my spare time, when I shouldn’t think about work. You know, like during jogging or washing laundry (just kidding, I don’t really wash laundry that much). I always carry them with me, though. The thoughts on food, that is.

Every dish we have is a part of a bigger entity – the menu. When changing a dish or even a component of a dish, you need to take all the other dishes in the menu into account. It’s like a puzzle, where all the pieces have to fall into place.

I think a lot on my own, but I don’t like to keep the ideas to myself. They usually get refined later with other people around me. You need colleagues to make good become great, even if you have the final say in things. An idea, which is being tossed and turned around through brainstorming, is more likely to become great. It’s also much more fun to develop a dish with talented colleagues. You might hear something that you’ve never thought of before. We test a lot of dishes and only a small part actually ends up in the menu. You don’t change something just for the sake of it.

When do I have time to brainstorm AND test the dishes? Well, we always manage to make some time between services and use it for an efficient brainstorming session.

Speaking of creating new – have you heard of our Olo Garden already? I will tell you more about it soon. Now I have to go and polish our new à la carte menu with the team.