Hi Sami. The wild food chef title heats my imagination. Could you tell me what does that mean?
Wild cook chef means that I work top quality seasonal ingredients and herbs available in the area. This is my profession, and part of the philosophy. I love what I do. I only do things that I love. I love wild food.
And how did you discover your passion in wild foods?
Well, firstly I am from Finland. Living in the country where 80% of the territory is covered with forest, Finnish people have a deep emotional connection with nature. However my first wild herbs try-out happened in the UK, around 15 years ago. I lived in London then. Eager to learn more about cooking I went there after graduation from my culinary school. I still remember the day when I discovered the power of the wild food. It was a busy day in the restaurant with nearly 100 people having lunch, when suddenly a hippie-looking stranger walked in the kitchen and asked if I would like to buy the sea kale. The situation was super weird. Nobody comes with an offer that way, and he picked the most inappropriate time! However I was intrigued about what the hell was sea kale and asked him to wait. It took me around 45 minutes to finish the work. The guy was still there waiting patiently. I invited him to the kitchen, took the sea kale, briefly blanched it in boiling water and seasoned it with some salt and pepper, and it was amazing! I have never expected it could be so delicious: I asked the guy to show me where can I find it. Later we went to nature and he showed me how to pick the sea kale, and also other plants like wild fennel and other seashore vegetables. Today I can name you around 75 plants you can easily find in nature, which are extremely good for cooking.
Are the wild herbs widely used in Finnish cuisine?
Although in Finland we are connected with nature, that connection is not strongly reflected in our traditional cuisine. My mission in life and my ikigai is to spread the knowledge about the wild foods, tell and demonstrate people how delicious and nutritious it can be, and help to understand better what Mother Nature provides us.
Agree. People need to be concerned about what they eat and how it effects on them. Could you as a chef give us some tips on how to develop the right attitude to food?
I came from restaurants – an environment where people want to enjoy the moment, but it should be more than the enjoyment alone. It should be simple, fulfilling and good for you. As well as to taste awesome the food is there to make us happy, endurant, productive, whatever your current goal is. These are the principles I apply as a chef. In my mind Ambronite is a perfect example of a simple meal that tastes amazing, gives you energy and consists of high quality ingredients. You may be surprised why a chef is so excited about such a simple meal. I truly appreciate them for using the wild ingredients like sea buckthorn and bilberries. It’s such a perfect combination of ingredients and works as a brain food food me. People who are constantly working need this kind of food to stay productive and happy at work.
Thank you Sami! May I ask you one more question? If I want to learn about wild food where do I start?
Just get out of the house and look around. Go to nature near you and start looking at the plants, trees, shrubs and mushrooms. It is always best to go in the morning when your mind is clear and receptive. In the morning the nature is at her best too. It takes time to learn to identify edible plants but once you get going, you’ll have that skill for the rest of your life. Each region have its own, typical species plus loads of common plants that grow broadly. There are plenty of information about wild food in web and in books. I would also recommend talking to aboriginal and Sami people who carry the wisdom of using wild food in their daily life. Once you’ve identified the right edible plant, smell it. Then taste it and think what flavors and textures it reminds you of. Then just use it in the same ways, but also feel free to experiment with flavors. This is the best way to develop better your cooking instincts, and turn the cooking process into an adventure.