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Global Foodservice: Trusting instincts

Finnish chef applies New Nordic Cuisine philosophy to ‘trash fish’

Chef Sasu Laukkonen features underutilized species, like carp, with a dramatic flair.  - Photo courtesy of Chef & Sommelier
By Anthony Fletcher
February 01, 2013

Sasu Laukkonen, an ambitious 37-year-old who counts farming and foraging as hobbies, is a name to look out for in the future. Just an hour before SeaFood Business caught up with him, Chef & Sommelier, the restaurant he recently opened south of the Finnish capital Helsinki, was recognised by a professional listing as the eighth best in the country. 

“We are just stunned,” he says. “For a 22-seat restaurant, this really shows that you can do things your own way, by trusting your instincts.”

Laukkonen certainly does that. His restaurant focuses on organic produce and natural ingredients, and he tries to work closely with producers and farmers. “The main point of this is to understand more about quality, seasonality and the reality behind the produce I use,” he says. “I’m very passionate about my ingredients; without them, this restaurant is just four walls and a kitchen.”

Laukkonen is transferring this philosophy to fish — and in particular, “trash fish.” This rather inelegant phrase is used to describe specimens that are seen as less desirable, and not commonly eaten in restaurants; they therefore do not command a high price and are often underutilized. 

Laukkonen says this is often a cultural issue: One country’s trash fish is another’s delicacy. The common carp, for example, is considered a trash fish in the United States, but is sought after in Europe.

“The United States and Finland are in the same boat on this issue, as we both have fish that people find hard to use,” he explains. “Many are unwanted by chefs because they are seen as being too bony. These fish are often overcrowding our seas and lakes, and should be made into something beautiful! At least, that’s my aim.”

Finnish trash fish include the roach, which Laukkonen can buy for €2.50 ($3.20) per kilogram. “A question we get from fishermen is, ‘Can’t you use these trash fish?’ For 1 kg of better fish, you can get, say, 1,000 kg of trash fish. For every 70 kg of carp bream you might catch 1,000 kg of roach. So what should fishermen do with these? This is a very relevant question.” 

This is something Laukkonen wants to address. Pike, another trash fish, is on the restaurant’s menu. 

“What we do is fillet it, take out the best bits, then flatten, layer and crush the bony bits. About two-thirds of the flesh is found here, so why throw it away? We want to serve every last bit. This is not just about being sustainable; it’s also about being smart.” 

His restaurant offers a stripped-down menu, where customers can pick and choose the number of courses they would like. Three courses costs €44 ($57), four courses €51 ($66), seven courses €67 ($87) and nine courses €74 ($96), without wine.  

Laukkonen was also recently selected by a Finnish foundation to act as a school-meals ambassador. “I have a daughter who will be starting school soon,” he says. “I have a vision of catching trash fish, pounding them into a mush and making them into fish sticks. Kids will get the real taste of fish along with plenty of omega-3s, instead of haddock that is flown all the way to Korea to be filleted.” 

Laukkonen’s philosophy is in keeping with the recent Nordic trend of culinary innovation. The so-called New Nordic Cuisine movement is about simplicity, pure ingredients and local produce. According to Restaurant magazine, the world’s best restaurant for the last three consecutive years has been Noma, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Headed by Chef René Redzepi, the restaurant has pioneered foraging and using only Nordic ingredients where possible. The whole region, it seems, is in the midst of a culinary revolution. 

Contributing Editor Anthony Fletcher lives in Brussels 

 

 February 2013 - SeaFood Business    

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