Thursday, 10 September 2015

This Ain't A Restaurant Critic, But More: 300 Hours In The Kitchen Of Juuri

Internet is full of restaurant critics. Anyone just writes many good and sometimes few bad things about the restaurants they eat in. But I find only some of them really accurate, as I know only some of them certainly have a realistic critical vision of food preparation, wine service and quality(what to look for in terms of expectation as a customer). Without the knowledge and the consideration of how hard and tiring to prepare a plate of food with all its protein source, vegetable and sauce condiments; writing without this "knowledge/vision" certainly makes someone incompetent, unfortunately. People simply do not know what to appreciate and what not to care about. Many bloggers go to a restaurant only once and mostly write so many extremely good things, or bad things. But writing about a restaurant by only one visit is I think really wrong, unfair and inadequate. Internet makes people think they are strong and effective, but reality doesn't work like that. Only some of the bloggers I know have such a knowledge and respect for this business which make them trustworthy to follow what they write.

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I dont say all these just to bore the readers, but I do say these to legalize all the words I will now write here about one of the casual-fine dining restaurants in Helsinki, Juuri Keittiö ja Baari (Juuri Kitchen and Bar so to translate). Not I was only a customer here, I was also an intern in this kitchen and worked 300 hours among "the heroes behind the doors" and after the first week of what I all have seen here, I starkly decided to write about Juuri because I saw that it deserves to pay serious attention.

When I was looking for a good place for an internship, a good place that I can learn, that Juuri came up as one of my few options. A friend of mine did intern there before me and I asked that friend about how Juuri was, as an experience. The answer was: "Yiiiieah, huuh huh... The big and tough guys. Good luck." Well that was not encouraging. It was really not encouraging to hear such words but still I decided to meet the head chef Jukka Nykänen and try my chance since I heard many good things about the food they serve in Juuri and to be honest their menu has been always interesting, full of pickled, cured dishes, many vegetables and interesting sauces etc. Especially Sapas, the Finnish style Tapas, where the "S" of Suomi (Finland in Finnish) replaces "T" of Tapas, is the name of many different small appetizers/starters, and are certainly one of the most interesting selections in what Helsinki restaurants have to offer.

So when I certainly decided to try it, I contacted maybe the most smiley restaurateur in Helsinki, Ilja Björs, one of the few personalities behind the idea of Juuri that was established more than 10 years ago. Via him, I reached the head chef Jukka and got an appointment with him, and then I went to Juuri, sat down together, discussed shortly and after all Jukka was positive about having me there. I was quite happy of that since I really wanted to be in that kitchen to see and learn about how their Sapas dishes are prepared already in action. I was going to be the first English speaking intern.


Samuli rocking the yellow beets
It is of course not easy to start in a new kitchen, you go in there, you have no idea where is the oil, where is the salt, sugar, where is the cutting board, where are the spices, what is used for what etc. Many questions and surprises while being extra careful to not to piss off anybody and interrupt their work. Starting in a new kitchen is quite embarrassing for the first few days, surely. And it was the same for my first day in Juuri too. It was a morning shift. It was a rainy, cold morning. I came and knocked the window after I saw Jukka from outside, working on the bread, then I walked to the door, another chef opened the door, Juuso, another big, tough looking guy, whom I was about to figure out that he is the most funniest and talkative hero in the kitchen actually. I remember, my first task was to chop red onions as brunoise, and I did, I did whatever I was taught in the culinary school for the perfect brunoise onion by the teachers and the cooking books, as I did when I worked in some other restaurants. Then suddenly I felt it, there was someone, a shadow, two big eyes behind me, I slowly turned over my shoulder, looked up and I saw his face, yes, that was Jukka looking at the onions over my shoulder, with sharp eyes and eye brows threading ("Jukan valvovan silmän alla" in Juuri slang :), he asked " What are you doing?" I said "Chopping brunoise." He said "Save them for another use and bring new onions, I show you." I did bring more onions and Jukka chopped them maybe 4 times smaller than what we were taught in the culinary school. The same story happened every day of my first week, with carrots, celeries, fennels and many more vegetables. You might think like "Hey so what, if one piece of carrot is little bit bigger than another?" Well then you can't simply get anywhere if you are looking for perfection in your plate. As simple as that. A simple cut might be the most important sometimes, you can only realize that at the final result, the plate. Also, it was about the level of cooking and the idea of perfection in the kitchen of Juuri, that even the simple cuts should be done with care. Sounds too much? Well just spend an evening in Juuri, you will understand what I mean.

Sakari rocking the evening service
Kyyttö Mozzarella in making

Juuri is OPEN EVERYDAY in a week, from Monday to Friday serving lunch and A la Carte and Saturday-Sunday only A la Carte. In a day in Juuri, kitchen starts with bread and cheese actions. I worked there last spring and at my time Juuri had own made mozzarella cheese made of the Kyyttö/Finnish Eastern cattle milk and a very delicious bread was made with their own growing yeast, everyday, fresh, delicious, beautiful. I am still a big fan of that bread. And then the last lunch preparations get to be done before 11:30am and at the same time preparations for evening service continues. The new orders come to kitchen anytime during the day. Almost all the ingredients used in Juuri are organic. In the kitchen, there is the recipe folder and every sous chef at least once touch this folder everyday to check a recipe, because it is so hard to remember all those different dishes, 12-15 different sapas with 4 different mains and 4 different desserts. What is hard in case of recipes is that the menu changing 6 times a year. The kitchen is so active, always new dishes coming up, I have seen Jukka with Kim working on new recipes at the back kitchen many times before, during or after the service, just the whole day whenever they have time for it. Jukka could easily change the menu only twice a year and keep the recipe issue easy. But no, the kitchen is always coming up with new recipes. I asked him why he is changing the menu 6 times a year, he just said these: "Well if I don't change then it is not a creative kitchen anymore. So many things are possible to do. I want this place to be a restaurant, not a museum. Otherwise it is just boring." I dont know what could be said after these words. He also has a background in restoration, he did study and worked in that business for some time until he decided to become a chef, so renewing things is his thing. Oh, there is also music included, he is also playing the guitars of a hardcore metal band, I know that some people call him "the killer chef" :)))

In Juuri lunch menu also changes twice a week. You can follow all the changes and news from the webpage What I most appreciate in Juuri, is that they put the same effort in lunch dishes, same high quality ingredients like the A la Carte menu, similar cooking methods, same ideas and same time to be spent for a plate with care and perfection. For the price, that quality food is a great offer for your business lunch meetings or just having a very high quality lunch for yourself. I worked in many kitchens in short and long terms before Juuri and the idea in many of those restaurants (not all) was basically, "it is lunch, customers pay less than a dinner, so throw the food on the plate whatever it is and send it to them." This idea does not exist in Juuri. The quality of lunch dishes and the effort they put in are not lesser than the dinner service. There is a certain standardization of quality in the kitchen of Juuri, no matter it is lunch or dinner. But dinner has of course much more different options to enjoy. But all in all, great ingredients coming together with creativity, lots of time spent in the kitchen, strong stocks and lots of flavor concentrations are the base of the idea behind Juuri. Concentrating flavors is very important. That much concentration I only saw two years ago during my internship in the two-Michelin starred Chez Dominique.

In Juuri lunch is also important and prepared very well

Many different condiments come together in small plates; "Sapas", plated by number of diners

I have eaten in Juuri twice during my internship. It was of course quite nice to see the other side of the restaurant running and see the customer reactions during the evening service. I had dinner once with a bunch of wine enthusiasts and once with a very good friend who has been in Juuri 4 years ago and had not liked it at all. Now probably Juuri is one of the first on his list if he needs to take friends or his guests out. For me both dinners I had were great experiences with concise yet complete wine list of the sommelier Pilvi. It is very important for a good restaurant to have a properly priced wine list with a philosophy behind it. Because restaurants exist to offer experiences to people to "restore" themselves not only by the food, but together with wines as an experience and a sense of a philosophy. The idea behind Juuri is serving high quality food with the best local ingredients that they could get with intelligently made, organic and natural wines,"intelligent wines/smart wines" that have serious characters and different layers of aromas and flavors(organic and natural wines don't always mean "intelligent wine"). Pilvi could easily take 120 labels in her wine list but what she does is focusing on well made organic and natural wines and having about 7-8 sparkling, 10-12 white, 10-12 red and 7-8 sweet wines. Also a very noble Rose. A good selection of beers and alcohol-free drinks can be found too. What is amazing is that all these amazing wines are also available by glass. This is just perfection customerwise.

Ulysse Collin, a very small artisanal champagne house, much more different and beautiful than any other giant house champagnes at this level and at the right side the beautiful, funky, natural style Christian Venier of a PN and Gamay blend, simply cheerful

Sommelier Pilvi, with her sweetest smile, has been in the restaurant business for 13 years in several positions like as a bartender and waitress. She started in Juuri about 6 years ago and she first started to be interested in wine culture when she was working together with Karoliina Kettunen in Juuri and got influenced by her and worked together until Karoliina left in 2011. Then same year the wine bar Latva started to run in a 50 meters distance to Juuri (just around the corner) and Pilvi became responsible of the wine lists of both Juuri and Latva. She did manage very well by focusing on certain things. For example, if there is a question for Pilvi: Are you more into the story of the wine or just the price, flavor and label design enough for you?

-I am definitely more interested in the story and the producer. It all depends on what kind of effort and philosophy was put into that wine. Also organic and biodynamic wines are more interesting to me.

Do you educate the staff?

-Yes, I educate the staff 6 times a year every time the food menu changes, because I add new wines to the list also.

Tell little bit about your pricing policy.

-I keep the prices mostly about between 45-60€ that makes them affordable, reachable. I want customers to be able to drink these wines and I want to show them little bit different wines in my list.

This is what Pilvi says. There is also a small tasting room in Latva, you just need to contact and book it for your private events, wine tastings etc.

Roni, the food&beverage manager, is the key man who is one day running the restaurant side of Juuri, another day making coctails in Latva, and another day cooking the lunch in Latva, and another day probably running to another task. He is ready to handle anything with his cooking background. After a whisky talk we had, he showed me his tattoos on his arm (A Scottish island figure and his son's name in one word; "Jura" :) I asked him how he sees the improvement of Juuri in time since he has been working there for such a long time. "We are always improving because always trying to do the better of whatever we do and when we achieve it, it becomes our new standard and next time we try even better than that, until we achieve it."

The amazing Mosse Anjou which is a natural style Chenin and beautiful Chateau de Gaure Campagne, a classic southern blend from the Mediterranean coast of France

And of course other people working there during my intern... Some of the most friendly and funny chefs, for example Juuso, he will never stop talking and keep the laughter going on in the kitchen. He is just great and if you had a hangover last night and if he is the one cooking the staff food, then you are lucky, because he always cooks fatty but really delicious, full of protein staff meals. Then Sakari, always kind and helpful, and always calm and talkative, Samuli, silent but the sweetest and friendly sous chef ever, Kim, who will always share his passion on Eastern spices, he will always be there whenever you need help. He was also the best singer in the kitchen. Yes he was. Aleksi was another sous chef, and have you seen the movie "The Big Lebowski"? Yes, Aleksi is the dude. Kaisa, was one of the two ladies in the kitchen and she was such a hardworking person. Mirjami, the other lady in the kitchen, was probably the most smiley of all, so kind and helpful, always.

And the restaurant side was full of attractive and charismatic ladies, Pilvi, Anni, Johanna, Inkeri, Tiina, Nelli, Happy Zoe(She is happy)... They are just such sweet people. Oh I feel so emotional now... :(  Okay its gone :) So lets write more.

There is also the team Latva and during my intern there was Janne, Jesse, Eppu, Teija and Anne-Sophie. I am so sorry if I forgot to mention any other name. I also heard some good news that after I left, an old good friend, Mixu The 'Mixu'logist had started in Latva. Great man in great place! I should stop by soon for a cocktail by him.

So, after all, I finished my culinary school in two years. But I got a great knowledge and experience only in two months in Juuri. Now I am having a small company specializing on wine and food pairings. From time to time I do caterings and organize tastings and wine workshops. Actually i did my first workshop on "Fish and Red Wine Pairing" and then just the next morning the fish dish for lunch was paired with a red wine in Juuri. It was a funny coincidence and I was happy to see it because nobody really does these kind of "out of the box" pairings.

Team Juuri also released a cook book called "Juuri Nyt" which you can get from Juuri, Latva or any other Pihka lunch restaurants and last year I received the book as a gift by a good friend, he said "Deniz, if you want to know what is happening in the Finnish cuisine right now, this is the book you need to have." That good friend is definitely someone I trust his words. He is a culinary missionary. He is running his mission as a sommelier in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Huvilakatu since more than 4 years.

Juuri Nyt available to practice recipes!

Team Juuri: Ilja Björs, Antti Ahokas, Jarkko Myllymäki, Jukka Nykänen. Also Arto "Viinipiru" Koskelo and Mika Wist are credited for this book

The last dinner I had in Juuri. Looking forward to the next one

The last dinner I had in Juuri. Looking forward to the next one

So, why did I write all these here? In a wine blog why I decided to write about a restaurant? Because Juuri is not simply a restaurant just to make money. These people have an idea behind it and I have been at that "behind", I spent 300 hours in this kitchen, I saw everything at its place and got amazed of it. Of course it is a very hard work to get everything perfectly prepared, cooked and plated and you have to be such a passionate, hardworking and strong chef to be able to work in Juuri. I salute these people with all my heart, it was very nice to have an internship with them. my experience in Juuri will definitely help me a lot on the long path of wine&food that I will keep tracking.

You should most definitely have a dinner in Juuri one day and after that, please, send me an email about your experience to I will be more than happy to read.

May your glass be filled with intelligent wines. Greetings.

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