30 Jun 2013

RESTAURANTS: Hans Välimäki

Finland’s Top Chef (Vertu)
BETWEEN filming, radio, and running two Michelin-starred mothership, Chez Dominique with wife, Maria (with whom he has four children), Hans Välimäki doesn’t have much time for me. ‘I’ll talk faster,’ he says when I protest 30 minutes isn’t enough for an interview. ‘I want to do everything, but I realise I’m a little over 40, so life’s limited!’

As a youth, Välimäki read about human anatomy. ‘I challenged myself to go to med school. But I also wanted to be a chef. Chefs and doctors both wear white and I believe alchemists were chefs who healed people using the same herbs.’
Can Välimäki describe his cuisine? ‘I get bored fast. Sometimes this kind of question bores me. I want a guiding light behind the menu which collects everything together. Many young chefs try to put everything on one plate. But what does beautiful spring asparagus need other than Hollandaise? Turn Hollandaise into foam and the asparagus loses the point.’
Välimäki isn’t entirely concerned with Michelin-stars. At Linnanmaki amusement park his speciality hamburger proved a sell out all summer. ‘Usually fast food means cheap ingredients. But if people pay a bit more, you can make them something handmade. Eating well needn’t be a benefit for the rich.’
I glance at Chez Dominique’s wine cabinet which Välimäki designed himself. ‘Chefs like beer, but beer is boring. There wasn’t any wine culture when I was younger. I remember the buffet car in the train from Tampere to Helsinki. My dad had to buy a sandwich with his beer because the government wanted you to balance your blood sugar. So he bought one and returned it to the fridge. That sandwich must have made the same journey many times!’
Fortunately Finland’s wine culture and sandwiches are better now. ‘Ingredients improved since we joined the EU. Before that, my friend remembers smuggling semolina flour from Italy. Today, Finnish producers have raised their game - or we buy elsewhere. Ultimately agriculture is a deep part of Finnish culture.’
Välimäki’s TV career began 12 years ago. ‘My friend, who owned a broadcasting company, asked me to do Ready Steady Cook after we got our first Michelin star.’ Today, in addition to judging Top Chef, Finland (in its third season) Välimäki authors a culinary travelogue. ‘In the first series I went to Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Monaco, London New York, LA, Anaheim and Hong Kong, where I ate snakes, which was horrible! I meet local chefs. There’s cooking, but you won’t be subjected to an hour of potato peeling.’
Although initially abrupt, as he warms, Välimäki imparts light-heartedness. ‘We are entertainers, and it’s good to be so. Of course we’re against hunger and endangered ingredients, but in the end chefs are healers, helping customers feel better...’ 
For Vertu