LIFESTYLE

Chef Helena Puolakka Uses VR At Her London Restaurant To Transport Diners To Finland

'I’m floating in the Nordic bubble.'

28/11/2017 09:00 GMT

For many, technology has ruined the restaurant experience with diners more interested in documenting their meal for Instagram than eating it before it gets cold.

While some restaurants have reacted by banning phones entirely, chef Helena Puolakka has chosen to embrace technology by create a multi-sensory experience that enhances food rather than distracts from it.

“I always thought that the chef needs to cook with all the senses. I had this idea: why couldn’t we do something special where we involve all the senses? Where people can feel a bit more about the story behind it [the food].”

In the latest episode of ‘The Chefs’ Chefs’, HuffPost UK’s original video series, Puolakka is joined at her London restaurant Aster by old friend and former colleague Tom Kitchin, who tries out the innovative dining experience for himself.

The Chefs Chefs

Having grown up in the south-west coast of Finland and worked in French restaurants in both Paris and London, Puolakka unique style is best described as Nordic-French, which is reflected in the dishes served at Aster.

Kitchin puts on a pair of headphones before tucking in to north Atlantic prawns, crisp rye, lemon, vendance roe and oyster leaf. 

Kitchin is clearly taken aback by the experience, describing it as “surreal”.

He says: “I can hear the fire start. I’m like floating in the Nordic bubble. What a lovely, fresh way to start a meal.”

The Chefs Chefs
North Atlantic prawns, crisp rye, lemon, vendance roe and oyster leaf

Before sampling the warm smoked artic char, pickled cucumber, aubergine and dill, Kitchin puts on a Virtual Reality headset and is transported to a scenic Finnish lake. 

Inspired by one of Puolakka’s earliest, most vivid memories, she recalls: “It’s an early spring day and there’s a pike that has come to the shallow water to warm itself in the spring sunshine. My father just caught it with a little  net and lifted it onto the boat.

“The element of how you see fish swimming in the sea, the movement of the fish and the seaweed around it... this is a visual thing for me.” 

The Chefs Chefs
Warm smoked artic char, pickled cucumber, aubergine and dill

The pair, who first met working for Pierre Koffman at his three-Michelin-starred restaurant La Tante Claire, have gone on to establish their own successful careers. 

“The industry’s changed so dramatically in the last 20 years,” reflects Kitchin, but he commends his old friend for moving with the times.

“This is so different, you’ve totally taken me aback with this today. You’ve totally reinvented yourself... on a plate it’s the new Helena Puolakka.”

She replies: “Or maybe I just woke up suddenly.”