You’ve got to learn to succeed

by Peeter Pihel

By the time I arrived to The Tallinn School of Service, the young chefs had already been bustling in the kitchen for nearly a whole day. The food happening created in a form of a pop-up restaurant was called N 11 – the future prospects of Estonian gastronomy demonstrating their skills. One can never be sure, but I expect at least half of them to be determined to continue in their path of becoming a full time chef. One of the goals for this event was also to pick a team out of those young Estonian chefs to represent Estonia in the 2014 Culinary Olympics. I wish them the best of luck!

During the dinner I found myself thinking about those young folks who have chosen to become chefs and the more I thought about it the more I realized that they would really benefit from improving their skills abroad. Maybe not escaping straight away, but in it’s good time – why not. And not aiming for some second rate corner restaurants, but for renowned spots around the world. So we welcome talents coming back home, but we need to let them go and spread their wings a little. Having said that, I must admit that there are very few examples of Estonian chefs working and gaining experience in worlds top-notch restaurants. Dima Mägi who is working in one of the NYCs finest restaurants Eleven Madison Park is probably the best example. So if you know any other good examples of Estonian chefs working in restaurants like that, I’d appreciate you letting me know.

Estonian chefs working abroad have surely a positive influence on Estonian culinary scene – bringing back the knowledge, experience and skills from a top restaurant abroad is worth a lot and is well needed in the restaurant kitchens over here. Because, let’s be honest – a lot of the so called original ideas from our top chefs have been borrowed from elsewhere. Cooking is a lot like making music – you can go on forever playing covers in a tribute band and fool everybody, but you don’t do that stuff in a good rock’n’roll band, especially if you are determined enough to make it someday.

I’m glad that the food buzz, blogging and media are very positive, evolving and active. Food related topics get a lot more attention these days than they used to, but the soup is getting cold in the pots of our chefs. It took a long long time to realize, that the best produce is local – the one we are familiar with and know how to use without seeming unnatural.

Bringing back the experience is nothing unusual – that is one of the aspects that has in fact brought fame and success to Scandinavian restaurants. Bringing back loads of experience, different vibes and mindset to ones homeland and mixing it with local ingredients is one of the simple formulas to success. So, my young colleagues – do not satisfy with making it to a culinary spotlight here on the fast track. I think we have probably moved too fast already and thus we’re missing out quite a few chapters in truly understanding the world of gastronomy. Gaining the knowledge, making that our own and building a true local culinary scene takes time, as it takes time to achieve a Michelin star. But I feel positive about it – we’ll finally get there – we just shouldn’t hurry.

The future of Estonian gastronomy scene

The future of Estonian gastronomy scene

Main course- Slow cooked duck breast, parsnip cream & pearl onions

Main course- Slow cooked duck breast, parsnip cream & pearl onions

Restaurant Neh was represented by a promising talent  Johannes Hõimoja

Restaurant Neh was represented by a promising talent Johannes Hõimoja