Chef-owner Toni Kostian has racked up awards and a Michelin star for his cooking at Grön, which champions Finland’s wild seafood and produce. What grows now determines what’s on the plate – that is, except in the depths of Nordic winter. In anticipation, and to stay true to his locavore mission, Kostian prepares more than 1,200 kilograms of preserves annually, everything from berries to dried meats.
He also collaborates with foragers who play such an important role that they’re featured on the restaurant’s website. Their bounty turns up in inventive dishes like white chocolate with pine needles; chicken with mushrooms and grated black truffle; and sea urchin roe with lemon and puikula potato from Lapland in northern Finland. They’re among the seven courses on a special tasting menu Kostian has prepared for Hong Kong’s Test Kitchen over 16-20 January; click here to purchase tickets for the dinners and natural wine pairings.
Between pop-up prep and exploring Hong Kong’s markets, Kostian took a break to answer our questions – and share his recommendations for a culinary tour of Helsinki.
What inspired you to open Grön in 2016 and why that name?
I really wanted a place where I can cook freely with no chains or anyone telling me what to do. Grön means green in Swedish – that stands for the ethos of the menu very well.
What are some of your favourite ingredients to work with and why?
Wild herbs, seafood and plants. They’re all super hard to cook with – there are so many techniques we employ – and they have flavours that blow your mind. I mean meat is meat, but the plant kingdom has flavours from anything you can imagine.
How did you come up with the menu selection for the pop-up?
I wanted to use the best ingredients in the Hong Kong area, with a few Japanese extras like scallops. The cooking and the look is 100 per cent Grön, but it’s fun to experiment with new ingredients – makes it interesting for us and the guests.
What do you hope people will experience and learn from your pop-up dinner?
That they will be open minded, ready to eat and have fun.
What are you most excited to eat while in Hong Kong?
Fruit – that’s something we do not have in the Nordic region. Yardbird’s yakitori was awesome, and I’m enjoying just experiencing the flavours and the atmosphere here.
Do you see any similarities between the food cultures of Hong Kong and Helsinki?
We both use a lot of dried ingredients for flavouring.
Copenhagen’s Noma is probably the most famous example of New Nordic cuisine. What distinguishes Finnish cuisine?
Not really sure if the Finns have their own cuisine yet, since Finland is a really young country [it only gained independence in 1917]. There are a lot of similarities to other Nordic countries.
For Hongkongers inspired to go to the source, please share a few of your favourite places to eat in Helsinki.
Inari – Kim Mikkola, the headchef and owner, is a good friend and a Noma alum
Basbas – Because Kalle Kiukainen makes super food, delicious and interesting
Way – Our new bakery and wine bar, with great food, sourdough and wine
SicaPelle – It’s just an hour outside the city in Porvoo, but worth the trip. I had one of the best meals there last year