Best known for helming Scandinavian restaurant FINDS at The Luxe Manor, Jaakko Sorsa is the group executive chef of GR8 Leisure Concept. The Helsinki native tells Adele Wong how it’s normal for everyone to own an island in Finland, and why Scandinavian restaurants are so few and far between in Hong Kong.
A little background
Jaakko Sorsa was born and raised in Helsinki, Finland. He attended the prestigious Perho culinary school in his hometown before embarking on a worldwide adventure that led him from Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe to a United Nations naval peacekeeping mission, to esteemed resort hotel establishments on tropical islands, and finally to Hong Kong where he helms the only Scandinavian restaurant in the city.
What’s a cool memory from your days growing up in Helsinki?
We used to spend our summers in the middle of Finland. We have an island — in Finland it’s normal. Many people have islands there. We used to go there for summer and went fishing. There’s no electricity, you get your food from nature, some friendly hunters bring us game meat, we go berry and mushroom picking, and basically you can just live there. But you need to bring your own water.
About two years ago we were back on our family island, I woke up in the morning kind of well rested, sun came up at 5 am. I sat on a pier — it was a really happy moment as the sun went by. And then I thought, I don’t want to have to wait a couple of years to go back to the island to have this feeling again. So after that I’ve always tried to chase that kind of feeling. It’s not easy to find, that quiet moment. But I think it’s important to be aware that you need one.
How did FINDS come to be?
The owner [of the original FINDS at LKF Tower] was a Finnish woman named Paulina, and she was a friend of [the late] Colette Koo from Drop. Paulina and Colette had been in Finland for a wedding, and they thought the food there was really good. It was a really weird idea [to open a Scandinavian restaurant in Hong Kong] but it was a good way to introduce Nordic food to Hongkongers. Every night, half the dining room never had Nordic food in their life.
What is Nordic food, exactly?
Nordic food is all about preserving. Because we have the cold winters. There’s hot smoking, cold smoking, pickling, curing, anything to do with preserving. At FINDS, we smoke everything, even butter. We also do drying, fermenting, all the old-fashioned ways. We do this to vegetables, seafood, meat, duck, anything really.
You’ve been at FINDS for 11 years now. What were some highlights?
I think the most rewarding experience for me was when Norwegian diver scallops came to Hong Kong for the first time — I only see them in two- to three-Michelin-starred restaurants in Nordic countries. Also, when the crown prince and princess of Denmark were in FINDS, and the princess really liked my little pork toasties and couldn’t stop eating them. It was really nice to chat with the princess about pork and my cooking.
What kind of customers make you want to run for the door?
I hate customers who put seasoning [on their dishes] before tasting. We don’t put salt and pepper on the table, but sometimes you might see people asking for pepper. They would start adding pepper before tasting their dish. I think that’s the worst. It’s total disrespect for the food and the chef.
With Noma topping the World’s 50 Best charts in recent years, how come we aren’t seeing more Scandinavian establishments in Hong Kong?
It is surprising. I think it’s weird that there are so many good restaurants [in Scandinavia] but none of them have come to Hong Kong. But Nordic cooking is about getting everything from your surroundings, so [the chefs] would think it’s absolutely insane to come here and fly everything over. Which is true, but that’s what we do in Hong Kong. It might also be complicated because they don’t have suppliers here. Because a lot of stuff I use, I bring myself and my friends bring here for me.
What ingredient do you like to work with the most?
Potatoes. For sure. There’s a really nice one they grow in Lapland. It’s a fingerling potato, a special one that tastes amazing. If you cook it 10 seconds too long, it breaks. Just boil it in salted water with some dill. And even serve them with the skin on, maybe match it with some really good butter.
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