CERAMIC ART & FINE DINING: JARMO PITKÄNEN’S STUDIO RESTAURANT TUNDRA IN FINLAND
The meals of Chef and Ceramic Artist Jarmo Pitkänen are a combination of design and fine dining. From starters to unique sculptured desserts, his creations are served from his own studio platters.
How would you describe your cooking style and the philosophy behind it?
The northern palette of ingredients is often quite unfamiliar to my overseas guests. So, I often build my menus into the form of tastings, introducing local flavours. A good dinner is actually a form of communicative theatre, and in my restaurant, this is reflected by the long table which the dining party shares.
Your Studio Restaurant Tundra is known as the world’s most remote fine dining restaurant. How do you get guests here in winter?
The basis of Studio Restaurant Tundra is its unique location near a major ski resort in Kuusamo, north Finland, a place that is famous for its great natural beauty. My restaurant is open by appointment only, with guests coming mainly in autumn and winter. Summer is a quiet time in the restaurant, which is fine for me – I devote my time for design work in my ceramics studio.
You are a Ceramic Artist and Chef de Cuisine/ Maître Rôtisseur, how does it fit together?
I feel that my two professions complement each other very well. The craftsmanship needed for them is very much the same. For me, it is a genuine luxury to be able to design and produce new culinary concepts complimented by the thematic vision and artistic interpretation visible in my ceramics.
Your new book Flavours and Forms from Kuusamo Lapland. What is the book about?
It is the story of my origins and the first 10 years of my studio restaurant. It comprises 50 recipes and introductions of many locally produced and harvested ingredients from my home town. I am currently thinking about writing a sequel – maybe the story of the second decade of my restaurant!
Fresh fish and wild herbs are your strengths. How do you use them in your kitchen?
My restaurant serves locally produced wild food made of ingredients harvested from the lakes and forests in our area. The term wild food refers to ingredients that, for centuries, people have been used to growing and picking and using in their everyday cooking. Today, the use of wild herbs have brought new nuances into local ingredients – herbs that our ancestors were probably using as herbal medicines.
The surrounding nature and seasons give a natural rhythm to the menus of Studio Restaurant Tundra. The wilderness provides all kinds of new or already forgotten opportunities to us, and discovering new aromas and flavour combinations inspires and excites me, day after day.
Is there an easy recipe that represents your work that you could outline for us?
The Japanese tataki method is very good used in cooking any dark game meat that is available. My Grouse Tataki is perfect served as a starter for a really festive meal.
- 300 g black grouse fillet
- butter/oil mixture for frying
- 50 ml finely chopped fresh coriander and thyme
- 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
- flake salt
- ¼ clove garlic
- freshly ground black pepper.
Cut the fillets into 5 mm slices along the grain. Heat the butter/oil mixture in a pan and seal the meat quickly, until the surface is browned. Do not overcook. Chop the herbs and garlic finely, and sprinkle them and some salt and pepper on the roasted meat slices. Allow to stand for a few hours in the fridge. Slice the meat across the grain into 5 mm thick strips, decorate with tips of herbs and baby lettuce leaves and serve.
You currently work as a chef in your own restaurant. How did start out as a chef, which culinary school did you attend? What brought you to cooking as a profession?
I currently work in my own studio restaurant. Before I began my two-year degree programme in cooking in Espoo, Finland, I lived in Stockholm for a few years, working odd jobs and gaining life experiences. Stockholm showed me a wide variety of cuisines, the only a metropolis can, and I made the decision to become a chef.
What will you never forget from your first year as a chef?
My trip to Beijing, China. I offered an excellent opportunity for a young chef to soak up the local cuisine. In addition to the four major culinary cuisines of China, I encountered a vast variety of walking, crawling, swimming and flying ingredients. Everything was different and new to me.
Many careers begin with hard times where some think about giving up. Was there also such a moment in your career and how did you overcome that?
There came a time when I felt I needed a more artistic approach in my work. That was when I found ceramics and took a few years doing a degree in ceramic art and design. Still, I returned to the kitchen, and today I regard myself as a lucky fellow, because I have found a way to combine my two craftsman’s professions into a functioning studio restaurant.
What are the best and worst aspects of working as a professional chef?
This work is physically very demanding, but very satisfying in that you get to meet people from around the world and talk with them. The best days are those when I feel I have succeeded in creating memorable experiences to my guests – that is very important to me.
Your culinary philosophy has been influenced by your many travels, as you have lived and worked in China, Australia, Hungary and Venezuela. How did these experiences influence your cooking style?
My gastro-travels have given me insight on how important food is to people everywhere in the world. Food unites people. Sitting down to a meal, people have time to listen to and truly understand each other. Food creates culture.
Local food, genuine and original, is part of the genuine experience people are looking for when travelling. At least, that was what always interested me the most. I want my food to reflect the essence of the forests, fields and lakes that surround us here in the north.
Travelling gave me courage to set up a place that is more than just a restaurant or a small ceramics studio. When I started, I was happy to see how interest in locally produced food started rising in Finland. It made me feel trendy!
Which products from small local manufacturers do you use and what do you create out of them?
I am happy to collaborate with small and specialized local producers. Our common goal is to make new discoveries and improve our local food. In this region, we especially try to promote companies that concentrate on harvesting wild herbs and developing them into new products. As my restaurant is small, I do a lot of testing and create dishes that cannot be produced in bulk. All this has raised lots of interest and enthusiasm among the guests of my restaurant.
Northern cuisine is a popular umbrella term. How does the Finnish cuisine distinguish?
Both eastern and western influences are present in traditional Finnish cuisine. A typical method of cooking fish or meat was smoking, derived from the need making the ingredient keep in good condition after harvesting. For the same reason, salting or raw-pickling was also a commonly used method.
Today, technology is widely used in Finnish kitchens. Methods and styles are combined, and experimental cuisine is also practiced. Ingredients are used in more and more versatile ways, and they are combined with the cuisines of other countries. Right now, Japanese cuisine is very popular among Finnish chefs, and aspects of Japanese cuisine are integrated into the trendiest menus in Finland.
Which culinary trends do you see going on in the world today? How much do trends influence you or inspire you?
Ecology and sustainability are the mega trends of today: organic food, locally produced and grown food, wild food. To me, this is not really anything new: these issues have been at the core of my business concept right from the start. Forest berries, wild fish and game and wild herbs form the basis of the menus in Studio Restaurant Tundra.
After so many experiences abroad; have you no wanderlust?
I am always eager to travel abroad discovering new flavours and aromas. I will never grow weary of travelling!
Studio Restaurant Tundra – aesthetic and culinary experiences in Kuusamo, Northeast Finland. Private restaurant, cooking courses, professional ceramics studio. Run by Chef and Ceramic Artist Jarmo Pitkänen. https://tundra.fi/en/