What does it take to become a gourmand girl boss? The Wordrobe chats French Nordic cuisine and keeping cool in the kitchen with Finnish-born Helena Puolakka, Executive Chef for Aster
With a “feminine, clean and simple” cooking style, Helena Puolakka’s dishes are every bit as pretty as they are delicious. The Wordrobe caught up with her to chat culinary journeys – and why self-belief is essential to succeeding.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What food takes you back to childhood?
A plate of warm smoked turbot.
What is your favourite current dish?
Easy – English green asparagus.