THE NORDIC WAVES-SCANDINAVIAN CHEFS: SASU LAUKKONEN
The Nordic Waves is the term I used to describe this group of chefs from all of Scandinavia, mainly from Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway. These chefs known for 3-4 years at international level have particularly been at the forefront over the past two years due to the recognition of New Nordic Cuisine and the emphasis on a cuisine close to nature and the local products. All this, without relying on the status attained by the restaurant Noma and Chef René Redzepi. But beyond fashions and trends of the moment, I discovered a high concentration of young chefs, innovative, creative, open to the world and all dedicated to their garden and immediate environment.
With this Series, I discovered several young chefs and parts of Scandinavia, but I have not had a chance to present an emerging chef from Finland. Here is by ‘’the front door’’, the chef Sasu Laukkonen.
Born in 1975, this young chef has a long experience in the kitchen. Without repeating his curriculum vitae, I will note its short internships at Château Carsin (Bordeaux), Lux and F12 at Stockholm, but mainly his work as head chef to La Petite Maison and Loft Restaurant & Lounge in Helsinki.
In 2010, Sasu Laukkonen decides to open his own restaurant, Chef & Sommelier. A restaurant ”human (grandeur)” where the chef (which makes the service too!) and his team decided to focus on organic products, local and close to nature.
Sasu Laukkonen makes a ‘’cuisine of heart’’, all handmade with the best products in Finland. Under the guise simple, her cuisine carries a unique background. The chef said ‘’Pure in taste’’, I would say also Purely Finnish! When everyone is rediscovering its ‘’terroir’’, this is the talent and creativity that emerges, and this is the case at Chef & Sommelier!
Q+A WITH SASU LAUKKONEN (www.chefetsommelier.fi ):
1-(Scoffier) How do you explain the philosophy behind your cuisine and what is it main characteristics? What is the concept behind Chef & Sommelier Restaurant?
SLaukkonen- The Chef & Sommelier concept is all about giving people a choice to eat a good organic (and wild) dinner in a laid back atmosphere in Helsinki. The restaurant is very small ( 25 seats ) and cosy, and we want our guests to feel welcome.
I’ve been talking about finesse-dining for a long time now, which I still keep as a term for what I do. It means that one can get fine dining on the plate but feel relaxed and even have a bit of fun while having a great dinner and with the Chef, his sommelier and his kitchen team.
My cuisine is very ingredient-based and natural. Actually, without good ingredients it’s impossible for me to do what I do. My philosophy is to think of ingredients as a whole and make the best out of them and let guests sample different parts of them. For example, buying half a limousine bull is lot different as an ingredient as buying just tenderloin, right?
I also try not to do too much to the ingredients so that one does not lose contact with the real thing. We are very vegetarian friendly, so I don’t use (for ex.) gelatine for anyone.
We use a lot of the less respected/valued ingredients and make them into something new and interesting and we put a lot of time and effort into foraging and picking ourselves so we fully know where the ingredients come from.
2-(Scoffier) Do you have a flavour or taste from your childhood that is again memorable?
SLaukkonen- Yes, several actually. One was just last August when we were picking peas from our garden and when tasting them I remembered
how it felt and tasted when I was just a little boy. Another one is wood sorrel, every time I taste it.
3-(Scoffier) Do you have a particular foods (or products) that you often use in your recipes?
SLaukkonen- Yes, indeed. Lemon has been my all time favorite. Also rosemary and horseradish, especially wild horseradish – the leaves and the stem have very certain flavor compared to the root (which is commonly used). But I am very seasonal, and of course one has his favorites, too.
4-(Scoffier) Do you have a mentor (chefs or anybody else) that inspires your cuisine?
SLaukkonen- My cuisine is inspired by everything I see, hear and read. Mentors, yes, many. But I’ve always been the kind of a chef that has more or less been going his own path.
I think my biggest inspiration has been to be able to see chefs that are creative and brave and to let their food and style inspire me into finding my own inspirations.
5-(Scoffier) Can you describe the progression of the gastronomy in the country in the recent years? Is the terroir in Finland
is very different from that of its neighbors (Norway, Sweden…)?
SLaukkonen- Gastronomy in Finland has taken a big leap within the last five years, but it is still quite Helsinki-based. There are some really good restaurants outside Helsinki, but really only a few compared to the amount in the capital.
Customers nowadays have seen quite a bit already, and one as a restauranteur has to be awake. There’s no easy way out anymore. People demand value for their money.
I’m glad that quite many chefs have made their own restaurants, because they make them look, feel and taste how they want.
The terroir here is almost the same with other Nordic countries, except that some countries are further down south, so they get a couple of extra days of growth period before winter comes. Ideal place for foraging and gardening certain varieties of vegetables, pure waters for great fish and lots of forests for game.
6-(Scoffier) How do you develop your recipes? What are your source(s) of inspiration?
SLaukkonen- I am very spontaneous. Ingredients inspire me, so when I come to think of a new one is start examining them. My recipes and ideas come to me when they come, I never force them out. Usually the best ideas come to me in the shower during mornings, I spend some time there relaxing and drinking coffee.
7-(Scoffier) Do you are part of the New Nordic Cuisine manifesto?
SLaukkonen- No. To be frank, I’ve never even read the whole manifesto with thought. Maybe I should do just that.
8-(Scoffier) You have a focus for the organic products It is now (in 2011) easy to source locally?
SLaukkonen- I’m very happy now, since I feel that finally the circle is starting to close – the first product to find me (without me trying
to find it) just came to me a couple of weeks ago – a finnish organic shiitake mushroom. Incredible ingredient!
Yes, sourcing for me has become easier this year, but mostly because I’ve started to get to know the right people behind the great products. But I worked for 3,5 months before we opened in August 2010 to find the right people, too.
I have been very lucky since I found Jukka Ahonala, who is a farmer, but also sources for me. He also can supply organic products from Europe if I am in need of them during the long winter. And still I am in direct contact with the farmers.
9-(Scoffier) Can you give us a detailed recipe (Signature dish or other) that is characterized the cuisine of Sasu Laukkonen and Chef & Sommelier?
SLaukkonen- Recipe: Celeriac & Nuts
I can give you a recipe for a dish that is on the menu now, since I am very seasonal chef. It is a recipe for a starter of celeriac and nuts. I use the celeriac as a whole so guests can compare the different tastes of the different parts of the same root vegetable. This recipe is for 8 people as a starter.
10-(Scoffier) What are your goals (ambitions) as chef and for your restaurant? Do you think about write a book, a television show, others?
SLaukkonen- Well, actually I have been cooking on tv every other saturday morning now for three seasons and will possible continue that
Books, maybe. I have a vision about a vegetarian cookbook that is based on ingredients and seasons.
Ambitions as a chef – to be able to do what I do right now and to just take that forward and to keep it real. To stay focused. And to attend MAD Food Camp next year! Ambitions for the restaurant – to stay as intensive without losing “the grip” and to set up a tiny Chef & Sommelier organic bakery at some point (maybe).
RECIPE: Celeriac & Nuts
Ingredients & Progression Recipe
-1 whole organic celeriac (lifted from underground max 1,5-2 months ago)
-Unrefined sea salt
-Organic olive oil
-½ dl organic hazelnuts
-½ dl organic pistachio nuts, gently roasted and peeled
-Organic unrefined sugar
-Organic Balsamico di Modena
-2 dl organic double cream
-1 g Texturas iota
1. First wash and rinse the whole celeriac really well. Also scrub the bulb so that one can use the peel.
2. Pick the leaves separate, cut the green stems into 0,5 cm pieces and reserve them separate but keep a little bit of the stem connected to the bulb.
3. Cut a 1/4th piece of the bulb with the stem-part intact and wash it very thoroughly, use a toothpick to get in between the stem parts. Peel the bulb with a peeler and keep the peels separate. Also cut off the worm-shaped roots and slice them raw and keep them separate in a moist place.
4. Cut the well peeled bulb-root in to 1 cm cubes and cook them in boiling water until soft, for about 20 minutes. Sieve off the water but save it for later. Puree the cooked bulb pieces with unrefined sea salt to taste and use the cooking water to smoothen the texture if necessary. Chill the puree in a container with a lid on.
5. Cook the leaves in boiling water for 2 minutes and lift them in to ice water directly to cool down. When cold, squeeze of any excess liquid from the leaves and puree them with the chilled bulb cooking water to a smooth puree. Reserve in the fridge.
6. Heat clean deep frying oil (or canola oil) until 180c and deep fry the peels of the bulb until crispy and darker brown. Place them on kitchen paper and season them with unrefined sea salt before they cool down. Keep them in room temperature.
7. Cook the 1/4th piece in salted water until al dente, about 10-15 minutes and keep it underwater with something on top. Don’t let it boil too hard when cooking. Chill the piece in ice water and slice into 8 pieces afterwards.
8. Fry the green stems in a bit of olive oil very hastily and to cover with water. Season with salt and cook for 1 minute. Sieve and chill them.
9. Put half of the hazelnuts in to a little pot and on the stove. When they start to smell and roast a little bit, put in a pinch of salt and sugar. Take off the stove and drop little droplets of Balsamico di Modena in so that it evaporates but gives a little glaze on top of the nuts. Cool the nuts on a plate and slice them into smaller bits before serving.
10. Make the hazelnut cream:
Put the other half of the hazelnuts in to a pot with the cream and season them with a little bit of salt and sugar. Cook it up and leave it next to the stove in a warm place so that is stays hot but doesn’t cook, about 10 minutes. Mix the cream for a bit with a blender – just a couple of pulses and sieve the cream. Mix in the iota. Cook up to 82c, sieve and pour into little silicon moulds. Cover with cling film and let set at room temperature.
11. Finish the sauce:
Heat the leaf puree until 50c, check for salt and/or sugar. Add 0,5 dl of olive oil but don’t emulsify, leave it a bit split. Cut the pistachio with a knife and add in to the sauce.
12. Serve all the different parts of celeriac with the hazelnut “panna cotta” and the hazelnuts.
Restaurant Chef & Sommelier/Chef-Owner Sasu Laukkonen, Sommelier Johan Borgar
00150 Helsinki (Finland)
1. Delicately Organic, We Are Helsinki magazine, March 2011
2. Valio Kotiruoka (Finland TV show), May 2011
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