Helena Puolakka On French Nordic Cuisine And Culinary Success

Helena Puolakka Aster

We spoke with Finnish-born Helena Puolakka, Executive Chef for Aster, D&D’s newest restaurant located in the heart of Victoria’s Nora development. Delighting guests with food that’s as pretty as it is delicious, Helena draws on the Nordic cuisine of her Finnish heritage using the classic French techniques she’s refined over her career.

Good Things chatted with Helena to find out more about her refreshing cooking philosophy, as well as her favourite seasonal ingredients and career inspirations.

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What inspired you to become a chef?
I grew up in Finland, foraging, fishing and living off the land. As you can imagine this upbringing instilled in me a love for produce and home cooking.

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Tell us more about your culinary background…
Upon graduating I moved to France where I worked with Pierre Koffmann at La Tante Claire and with Pierre Gagnaire at his eponymous restaurant in Paris. Retuning to London I worked as head chef at Harvey Nichols’ Fifth Floor restaurant and café.

In 2007 I took on the role of executive chef to launch D&D London restaurant, Skylon. In recent years I’ve been working as culinary director of the catering business, Company of Cooks, whose portfolio includes The Royal Opera House, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Academy.

Open sandwiches (2)

Describe your cooking philosophy in three words.
Seasonal, fresh and clean.

What has been the proudest moment in your career?
To thrive in my career and have a family alongside.

If you weren’t a chef, which career would you like to pursue?
I’d love to be a florist.

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What is your favourite midnight snack?
For me, it’s always sourdough bread, lescure salted butter and beaufort cheese!

Do you have any tips for aspiring chefs?
To succeed, you must be resilient, passionate and above all, believe in yourself.

How would you describe your style of cooking?
I’d describe it as feminine, clean and simple.

Do you have any role models?
My grandmother was a very important influence.

Arctic char, beluga lentils, roe, confit shallot

What food takes you back to childhood?
A plate of warm smoked turbot.

What is your favourite spring dish?
Easy – English green asparagus.

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