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Located in the center of Helsinki, Chez Dominque, is the most French of Finnish restaurants. Chef Välimäki, also known as “the herb hunter”, deftly garnishes his dishes with aromatic moss, lichen and Provençal herbs. A graduate of both the Perho Culinary Institute and Edsbacka Krog in Stockholm, Välimäki earned Chez Dominique one Michelin star in 2001, and two each year from 2003.
A fixed name on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Välimäki is clearly one to watch on the world’s culinary scene. He’s widely considered to already be the Prince of the Tundra.
How did it all begin?
I wanted to be a doctor, and as a kid all I did was read anatomy books, but then I realized that it was better to handle dead animals than sick people – right? And then? Then study and research. And then, Redzepi.
If you had to sum up your cuisine in an sentence?
“Quality without compromise” is my motto. And by “compromise” I mean the weakness that leads some chefs to alter flavors and transform dishes into something amorphous. I believe that focus must be on the absolute essence of a dish, for both the taste buds and the visual appearance. Everything superfluous must be removed; people don’t realize how many unnecessary things go into most dishes.
Your culinary cuisine is based on the accessibility of products. But when you are looking for inspiration, do you focus on the dish or the ingredients?
The ingredients – in general, we use every single part of an ingredient. An excellent fish or a discovering a new plant or edible lichen sometimes inspires an entire menu. Every series of dishes celebrates a season, inspiration comes from a single taste, a walk in the woods, a trip. I try to use local ingredients as much as possible, but I don’t feel obligated to do so. I want the best, and if the best fish or shellfish comes from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, that’s where I’ll buy it. The most important local ingredients include lamb from Sellvik estate, duck from Alhopakka, mushrooms and berries from Taavetti and the reindeer from Salla. Seasonal vegetables are acquired from Uusimaa. My exception to buying locally is France.
Chez Dominique is one of the few restaurants in the world where a private French agent delivers the most important ingredients. For example, poultry, duck liver and the finest herbs arrive to Chez Dominique directly from France. How important is the French school of cooking for a chef?
French cuisine is the Latin of cooking.
What’s your favorite dish? And the dish you’d like to be remembered for?
I’d like to be remembered for a salad – a perfect salad – because it’s a dish that is impossible to replicate the same way every time. It’s a special mix of flavors, whose secret lies in combining many ingredients while keeping their own individual characteristics intact. Reaching that perfect balance is the ultimate objective. I change my menu five times a year, but salads are a constant test for every chef.
I just opened a bar within Chez Dominique, and it’s a perfect place in which to wait for dinner. I’m passionate about fine wines and Champagne – here’s my love of France again – and I’ve only stocked the cellar with bottles I myself would want to enjoy.