Crunching the kitchenstuff

From paper into a pot

I’ll start off with a question this time – how many different ways can you recall for chopping a carrot? Slicing, cubes, julienne, brunoise etc. But how thick should be the slice in case of slicing? What does ‘gentle boil’ mean, but ‘lively simmer’? How long should be the side of a carrot when making cubes? These are the questions I often run into after I’ve sent a recipe to an apprentice or for a womens’ magazine.

People who are using recipes when cooking can be divided in to two – people who follow the recipe word by word and people who are more creative and change things on the go. Either one can not be condemned for their methods – far from that! Although I feel a bit sorry for people with their nose all the way inside the recipe book, but their sauce has still as a ‘split’ texture instead of ‘silky’. One that’s sure, every recipe consists of cooking aspects that are hard to put in words and no matter how hard you try, it is hard to mess up without a sensitive touch and understanding. Without that special gut feeling.

The style of writing recipes has changed quite a bit over time. During the preparation for the culinary event ’20 by 8′ I worked my way through an ancient book that came out from the walls (and that’s no lie) during the restoration of Pädaste manor. A cooking and household book by Lida Panck was printed in 1896 – the wording of recipes there are strict and have a practical feel – no illustrative or overemotional expressions like golden brown or silky sauce. The style of John Evelyns’ book ‘Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets’ is even more strict, without a single illustration, just plain text and preparation manuals. Recipes like in professional kitchens nowadays – a lot of numbers and names, but no word by word manual of how to prepare a particular dish, as the cook must now the techniques by hard.

To sum it up, I think that one must be careful with the recipes overloaded with shiny pictures and overwhelming words, because, not to be forgotten – in the end of the day, everything is still up to you – your skills, desire and creativity! Sometimes it is better to go with your gut instead of the recipe!

Kasuline köögi -ja majapidamiseraamat by Lida Panck


Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets by John Evelyn



Grow your own vegetables

Snow is finally melting and the evenings are getting brighter every day. Birds are singing, people are smiling more often and you can actually feel spring in the air. Another rough winter has been defeated, earth is swallowing the warmth of the sun and it’s time to dig in the dirt.

As the soil is getting warmer I must prepare myself for the first open field plantings of the season in our Manors garden and in Rautsi farm in Saikla village. Taavi is the young farmer of Rautsi farm and it is the second year we are co-operating with him in growing vegetable needed in the manor kitchen and at Neh. This year we decided to increase the area we are sowing the seeds. The reason for this is our decision to keep restaurant Neh open for the summer as well, so we need a bigger volume of vegetables.

Actually I can’t wait to see the first plants to surface. Therefore – good colleagues, it is not too late to find your kitchen a farmer who would grow vegetables specially for you. Write down a list of what you want to grow and the quantities, take a look at the seeds that are on offer in special stores, find yourself a farmer with a piece of land and plan your production. No need for endless whining of how fresh vegetables are hard to come by. While selecting the seeds take notice at old and traditional assortment if possible and favor those. It may sound odd, but for example one of Estonia’ s beloved potato sorts called ‘Jõgeva kollane’ was on the verge of disappearing from our tables not a while ago.

We had a fine initiative over few weekends here in Pädaste, called Children’s Cooking class. I was amazed by the eagerness of those young kids I taught cooking and the whole process made me think about how schools all around Estonia used to have their own school gardens – something that we are clearly missing now. I remember, that we had to weed and water the plants and do other useful stuff in the school’s garden for at least couple of hours during the summer holidays back in Soviet times. I now, it wasn’t much fun back in the day, darn plants and weeds, I used to think. Especially as I was a country boy myself and it could not interest me less how the carrots grow or if pests were trying to have a cabbage feast and ruin the harvest.I could explore that in my home garden anyway, but having said that, it was not the issue with few classmates who lived in the town and didn’t have that opportunity. So they found those things rather interesting to observe.

Schoolyards and gardens are in fact not some crazy worn out Soviet thing as one might think – check out this pretty awesome site – The Edible Schoolyard Project, and you’ll see what I mean.


Nowadays when urbanization is vast and the kids further away from nature, it might be a good idea to raise their interest in eating the vegetables through exploring the whole process of vegetable growing. I reckon that no one can be left indifferent when taking part of the growing process – sowing the seeds, being there for the little plant and helping it to grow. I bet the carrot tastes a lot better when grown yourself. Putting in time and effort, makes us appreciate more and it’s no different with growing vegetables. I know – it may sound too idealistic, but if any schools have a serious interest to set up a school garden again get in touch with me and together with Pädaste’s horticulturist Anna-Liisa we’ll be more than happy to help you in any way we can. But enough of this talk – it’s time to plant some seeds

Few exotic plants from Pädaste's garden (drawing by Anna-Liisa Piiroja)

Anna-Liisa Piiroja - the horticulturist of Pädaste collecting bladderwrack (photo by Jean-Pierre Gabriel)

Beets from the last season

Beets from the last season



Michelini Euroopa suuremate linnade tärnitabel väljas

Ja ongi kätte jõudnud päev, mida maailma ja eelkõige Euroopa kokandushuvilised on ärevusega oodanud. Iseäranis kehtib see loomulikult tuhandete ametivendade kohta, kes küüsi närides ootasid maailma lugupeetuima restoraniteatmiku Michelin Guide’i Euroopa suurimate linnade restoranide reitingu tulemusi ja iseenesestki mõista – legendaarset tärnidejagamist.

Michelin Guide 2012


Kasutades jalgpallikommentaatorite sõnavarasalve, siis võib vist märkida, et seis on küllaltki sumbuurne, ehkki oli ka üllatusi.

Suurt rõõmu teeb see, et Oslo uus au ja uhkus Maaemo tunnistati kohe lausa kahe tärni vääriliseks. Maaemo köögi tegemistest võib lugeda Alexander Restorani ja Nehi koka Ranno Pauksoni blogist, kes just seal käesoleva aasta alguses stažeerimas käis ning nii palju kui ta pajatanud on, siis sellega, mida seal nägi ja kuulis, ülimalt rahule jäi. Tubli tõusja kõrval töötas ennast suurde mängu tagasi ka Oslo kauaaegne juhtiv restoran Bagatelle.

Tunnistan ausalt, et vargsi lootsin, et ehk kahel viimasel aastal maailma parimaks kuulutatud Noma või rootslaste uus kulinaaria lipulaev Frantzén/Lindeberg saavad kolmanda tärni lisaks, kuid sel korral veel siiski mitte.

Põhjarindel püsib seis muutusteta – Chez Dominique jätkab uhkelt esirinnas oma kahe tärniga.

Eriliselt hea meel on mul Christian Puglisi üle, kellega oli meeldiv kohtuda Milanos Identità Golose toidufestivalil. Peale Bib Gourmand’i nimetust teenis Kopenhaagenis asuv restoran Relae endale nüüd ka tärni – suurepärane näide sellest, kuidas lihtsus töötab. Kopenhaagenist rääkides on veidi üllatav, et Geranium kahte tärni ei saanud, aga pannes siia kõrvale Maaemo edu, siis võib Geraniumi puhul näha teatavat ‘tasa ja targu’ toimetamise loogikat. Ehk on järgmine aasta just nende aasta.

Usun, et igaüks võib oma kogemusest või kellegi teise omast lähtudes öelda, et kui me kõrvutame Eesti ja Lõuna-Euroopa hotelle ja nende tärne, siis laiutab nende vahel korralik kuristik – mõni Lõuna-Euroopa kolmetärni hotell ei saaks meil siin ilmselt ühte tärnigi kätte. Seevastu on Michelini tärnide jagamine olnud tunduvalt homogeensem, kuid leidub ka negatiivseid kogemusi. Milanos asuv restoran Cracco, millel ka uues Michelin Guide’is lausa kaks tärni jagatud oli veebruaris külastades tõsine pettumus. Olen tubli pingutuse ja hea kokkamise ees nõus alati mütsi maha võtma ning ehk võib mind aegajalt ka pirtsutamises süüdistada, kuid seekordset arvamust jagas kogu meie laudkond – kahest tärnist oli asi tõesti kaugel.

Ristorante Cracco

Ristorante Cracco

Karamelliseeritud Vene salat restoranis Cracco

Oliiviõli cremè brülee

Oliiviõli cremè brülee

Ka Björn Frantzeni, kellega õhtusöögi lauda jagasime, tegi Cracco menüü pisut nõutuks

Ka Björn Frantzeni, kellega õhtusöögi lauda jagasime, tegi Cracco menüü pisut nõutuks

Kokkuvõtvalt tuleb tõdeda ja üldse mitte kibestunult, et Michelin Guide’i pääsemiseks on lihtsam kolida piiri taha. Hoolimata tõigast, et Baltimaad on juba rohkem kui paarkümmend aastat iseseisvust nautinud, suhtutakse meisse endiselt kohati kui perifeeriasse. Samavõrd tigedad on Michelini hindamissüsteemi peale tegelikult ka näiteks ametivennad Rootsis, ehkki sinna jagub Michelini tärniga restorane aasta aastalt järjest rohkem. Tõsi, ilmunud teatmik on Euroopa suuremate linnade kohta, kuid usun, et ka Tallinnas ja mitte ainult, on mõned, vähemalt Bib Gourmandi väärilised söögikohad. Võimalik, et tasuks mõelda selle peale, et moodustada ühine restoranide hindamise süsteem Rootsiga, kelle mainekas White Guide just eelmisel nädalal ilmavalgust nägi. Leian, et Põhjala toidukultuuri populaarsuse valguses poleks see üldse utoopiline mõttearendus.

Igatahes head toidusõbrad, tasub uus Michelin Guide Amazonist tellida ja hoolega bookinguid tegema hakata – meie lähinaabruses on palju häid ja veel paremaid toidukohti.

Women should stay in the kitchen!

As we celebrated International Women’s Day (at least in this side of the world) just a week ago, I found myself thinking, how come an old and worn-out expression like ‘women should stay in kitchen’ is in some occasions still in use. Although home-cooking has been and still is very much women’s domain.

If we take a look at how are things in the professional kitchens here in Estonia, we see a whole different world. Only 10% – 13% of people working in kitchen are women and even that number is mostly generated by the cooks working in school canteens. Going even further we see that we pretty much don’t have any female chefs in Estonia comparison to men working in the best restaurants here and abroad. But not to give Estonia a bad name, it’s not much different around the world as well.

Looking at the last years ”The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ we only find Elena Arzak with her father in the TOP 10. It’s worth to mention that the competition also gives out an award for Best Female Chef. I reckon that our local culinary awards by Flavours of Estonia and Silverspoon should also take notice and show their appreciation and praise to female chefs of Estonia. Culinary world is tough and sometimes even ruthless – that’s why I definitely give accolades to women who make it. We should all do that!

By the way – research has pointed out that the companies that embrace women in their boards show better business results. It’s clear that the times of running the kitchen with Gordon Ramsey-like vulgarity and abusive language should be over for good!


Angelica Udeküll & Peeter Pihel

My first teacher and mentor Angelica Udeküll - thank you for your endless trust and support

You’ve got to learn to succeed

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

Celebrating signature cuisine at Identità Golose

For the first time I was honored with an invitation to participate in ‘The International Chef Congress – Identità Golose’  held in Milan, among the great chefs from all around the world. Although in a lot of ways concentrated mostly on the Italian culinary scene, I met familiar faces from the northern side of the world. Scandinavian culinary scene was represented by René Redzepi – who has shifted the way of thought in the gastronomy world today, having led his restaurant Noma to thrive and to a worldwide success; also Daniel Berlin a culinary mastermind behind the ever so popular Krog and Björn Frantzén – one half of the new up and comer Frantzén/Lindeberg, a two Michelin star restaurant extraordinaire in Stockholm. So as you can imagine – I found myself in a well respected company.

Boys from Island Muhu staging the Nordic Islands' Cuisine in Milan

The congress ran smoothly and everybody seemed to enjoy the presentations and the overall atmosphere, all despite the legendary Italian confusion. One could see very clearly the passion that italians have in everything that concerns food – they can talk about it for hours and one who’s not local, might lose quite a bit in the translation, although their articulation and attitude makes up plenty. You hardly find anyone in the world who has more pride in their cuisine and kitchen traditions than the italians – no wonder the congress held different theme days for pizza, vegetarian dishes and needless to say – pasta.

The veterans of the congress knew to say that the event has become more Italy-oriented. And I must confirm that notion – but after all, it is one of the Meccas of European cuisine. Italian chefs are highly respected and enjoy their superstar status. I definitely gathered a lot of good emotions and was yet again confirmed that we are on the right path – our efforts in Pädaste have been noticed, and it surely makes me glad that younger generation from Europe finds great interest in wanting to come and practice in our kitchen, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see young chefs from Spain, Austria and Italy slicing and chopping in our kitchens pretty soon.

Identità Golose

Electrolux Cube set against the backdrop of the Piazza del Duomo in Milan.

René Redzepi with his presentation 'Winter was mild'

Italian superstar chef Massimo Bottura

Swedes in action

Daniel Berlin playing with fire