Celebrating All the Senses

27 Sep 2017
4 min read
The Nordic manifesto according to Hans Välimäki, explained by FOUR in its International edition…

“I really love it when we are sourcing and using local foodstuff and try to create something unique”.

There may be some sort of Nordic food revolution on the way or even happening at the time of writing but let’s face the harsh facts: even though in the past couple of years, numerous internationally famous gourmet restaurants have sprung up in Scandinavia – one Noma springs to mind – it’s harder than ever to find well-prepared food in restaurants, let alone proper ingredients for cooking at home.

The fact is that foods like kidneys, sweetbread, and cheaper cuts have been replaced by Brazilian steaks and jumbomumbo ready made meals. Forget also the whole chickens and whole, locally caught fish. People don’t know how to cook anymore. Taste and variety have long ago been replaced by ease and speed.

Big and cheap rules here in Finland, and that very same fact applies in Sweden, Norway and – yes – Denmark.

But aren’t we all savage people of Nordic countries living near the nature? Aren’t we all going organic like good people of Copenhagen do thanks to Noma and chefs on mission. Nope!

I love what my colleagues are doing at the moment, especially in Noma. But there’s only one Noma and all the other restaurants ”inspired by Noma” have been pale imitations of the real thing.

That said, I really really love it when we are sourcing and using local foodstuff and try to create something unique with them instead of lamb from NZ or salmon from Chile. But my way of thinking, my way of cooking has got nothing to do with this high-mindnesses, which in many cases is just a way to make money. Just look at the prices in your local branch of Whole Foods.(tm)

I’m very sorry but I don’t really think that we can actually save this world by offering lichen or foraged weeds to our customers. The sad fact remains that only establishments that are actually willing and ready to drop any money for that stuff are fine dining restaurants like us and our customers, and I’m not so sure whether it’s a good idea at all to encourage good public to forage their own. There are some seriously deadly weeds out there in the sticks.

Instead of trying to conceptualise Nordic food or offering various foraged weeds or whatever is exotic and barely edible in my restaurants, I try to play with nostalgia, old-fashioned dishes, old-fashioned food and modernize our very own food heritage.

I’m trying to stir up memories of tastes and smells from a vanished time. Funny thing is that when we’re actually talking about real gourmet cooking, we are using the freshest, highest quality raw ingredients, often purchased the same day from the food made by hand without any additives and – very often – with slow, time consuming preparation. Sounds familiar? Just like our grandparents used to cook our food.

Again, what is Nordic kitchen? In case of Denmark (country is one of the biggest producers of pig meat in Europe, and certainly only tiny part of that organic). I suppose it’s a hybrid of German and Swedish cuisine, Finland? Surely Sweden has influenced our cooking as well as Russia and many many others. I’ll give you an example: stuffed cabbage rolls are one of the favourite foods, considered widely as Finnish classic. But they come to Finland from Turkey: For several hundred years we Finns were part of Sweden fighting their wars and dying for them. The Swedish king lost to Russia at the Battle of Poltava some three hundred years ago and those Finns fighting amongst Swedish ranks withdrew to Turkey, nearest allies at the time, to lick their wounds and learn how to make cabbage rolls.I’m always using the freshest local ingredients possible but I’m not a follower of any dogmas. In our bleak autumns and long winters there’s not that many options available: you have to use imported stuff or die. I don’t care where my ingredients come from as long as they are the best in the world.

Therefore it always really annoys me when some know all food journalist are giving me a hard time why my restaurants has a French name (because of the former owner who sold me the place some ten years ago and was a French guy, thank you, and yes, it is a bit tired name, but I’m bloody stuck with it, thanks for asking) and why I’m cooking with foie gras and pigeons? Why aren’t they asking why Gordon Ramsay is offering his tired classic French cuisine in his three star London restaurant? Shouldn’t he stick to Yorkshire puddings and cottage pies? I find this attitude not only condescending and patronising but also plain silly.

We, people of Nordic countries should act to you Anglosaxons as some sort of exotic peasants or at least that’s what they are expecting. At least journalist are always on the lookout for the next – usually artificial big thing. And yes, actually we do have themed restaurants and funfairs for that purposes but my restaurant is definitely not one of those.

So what is best in Finland? Fresh vegetables, which are actually roughly equivalent to the French spring vegetables. But only for a very short period of time in June when they truly are manna from heaven. We do have absolutely fantastic berries and mushrooms, and our relatively clean lakes compared to those in northern and southern Europe (and there are thousands of them) are full of fish that nobody bothers to catch. There. And that’s about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love and will always offer Finnish staples like reindeer to my guests as well as foie gras and pigeon, but I’m not willing and ready to play that exotic wild man from the woods card. I think it’s just plain tacky.