Kitchen confidential

Updated: 2012-04-15 07:38

By Rebecca Lo (China Daily)

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Kitchen confidential

Chef Sorsa, preparing scallops at the Nordic restaurant, says he has "a closet full of Le Creuset frying pans". [Rebecca Lo / China Daily]

Kitchen confidential


FINDS' executive chef Jaakko Sorsa maps out his dream kitchen and what gadgets he can't live without when cooking at home. Rebecca Lo reports in Hong Kong.

Cooking for royalty and heads of state may be prestigious, but Jaakko Sorsa starts his day by keeping things real. He alternates between a piping hot sauna, cold showers and exercise at his gym - just like he would do in his native Finland. The executive chef of Nordic restaurant FINDS then heads into the Tsim Sha Tsui restaurant for a morning cup of espresso to accompany another busy day in his award-winning kitchen.

Sorsa first honed his craft as sous chef at Chez Dominique in Helsinki, where he was part of the team that propelled the restaurant to its first Michelin star. He was invited to cook an authentic Finnish dinner for Japan's Princess Takamado.

He has prepared meals for Vladimir Putin, Bill Clinton and the Swedish royal family. As part of the United Nations' special peacekeeping forces in Lebanon, he learned how to literally cook under fire.

When the late Hong Kong food-and-beverage guru Colette Koo came up with the concept for Hong Kong's first restaurant based on the Nordic countries of Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden (or FINDS) in 2004, she naturally thought of Sorsa to man the stoves.

Now in his eighth year with the restaurant, he and managing director Anna Andasiewicz spearheaded the restaurant's successful move in 2011 to become The Luxe Manor hotel's signature restaurant.

In the meantime, Sorsa has added cooking classes to his repertoire, conducting them in German luxury appliance manufacturer Miele's show kitchen in Kowloon Bay along with upmarket grocer CitySuper's various outlets.

He is also the current president of Disciples Escoffier (Hong Kong chapter), an international 22,000 member-strong non-profit culinary society dedicated to safeguarding the strict adherence to technique, quality and flavor first espoused by French master chef George Auguste Escoffier.

After cooking most days in a state of the art commercial kitchen, Sorsa enjoys coming home to enjoy his Shanghai-born wife's native dishes. "She studied in a Shanghai culinary school for three months," he notes. "My mother-in-law is also an excellent chef."

Although his Park Island home is spacious by Hong Kong standards, he would love more counter and storage space.

"We have an open kitchen," he says. "We enjoy cooking socially and it no longer becomes punishment being locked in a hot kitchen when others at a dinner party can wander over to see what I'm doing."

Sorsa's dream kitchen includes a stove with a minimal of four burners; the cook top should be flush with the surface to accommodate different sizes of pots and pans. "An oven is a must, along with a massive exhaust," he states. "A steamer is not as important but if I had the space, it would be nice. And a salamander is great for finishing dishes one by one at a dinner party."

His ideal layout is a U-shaped counter with an island for double sinks and preparation directly behind the stove and adjacent grill. "A big cutting board needs to be right beside the sink, so that all of the scraps can go directly into it," he says.

Favorite gadgets include super sharp Global chef and peeling knives from Japan, a blender from Cuisinart with a heating element for keeping soups hot as they are being pureed, and Kitchen Aid mixers with whisk, hook and flat blade - "indispensable for baking".

For chopping, though, Sorsa still prefers doing things the old fashioned way: by hand.

"Food processors take all the juices out of vegetables," he notes. "Besides, cutting is fun. I like to make pureed root vegetable soups with celery, potato and garlic. If the ingredients are fresh, you don't need too much cream."

He is a big fan of one pot dishes like long-braise stews, potatoes simply prepared with fresh rosemary and using the sprigs to flavor chicken as skewers. Other ingredients he loves to work with include parsnip, Finnish morel, salmon, halibut, lamb, salt and smoke.

"A neat trick is to smoke small batches of vegetable or fish in a wok," he advises.

A fine Microplane grater ensures just the right sprinkle of lemon zest, while a treasured Japanese fish scaler gifted by Nobu Matsuhisa is ideal for cleaning the fish that Sorsa adores preparing.

"I have a closet full of Le Creuset frying pans," he confesses. "A really nice, high quality frying pan is important; you just buy them once and treat them well. Cast iron is great for meat stew and risotto. I have my grandmother's pan at FINDS."

He recommends time and patience for anyone tackling new recipes. "Be ready to fail," he says with a smile. "Experiment alone or with a good friend before trying it out at a dinner party. If you do the same dish again, I guarantee that it will be better the second time around."

Despite preparing many memorable meals both at FINDS and at home, one of the standout dinners in his mind was enjoyed at Lost Heaven in Shanghai. "It was an introduction to Yunnan cuisine," he sighs. "It wasn't just a discovery of a dish or flavor - it was like discovering a whole new world."

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