Ina Niiniketo is a young Finnish chef who cut her teeth in well-known establishments in Stockholm and has just opened her restaurant in Helsinki. She made the trip to Montreal for an ephemeral collaboration with the restaurant Ratafia, as part of Montreal in light. La Presse followed her during her stay.
“We had to come to the other side of the world to find exactly the same temperature as at home! Ina Niiniketo laughs with her boyfriend Roni Kerttula, who made the Helsinki-Montreal trip with her, watching the big snowflakes fall on Montreal, through the window of the Ratafia restaurant, Tuesday noon. The one who had never come to America is therefore not too destabilized by the winter temperature that prevails there.
She was also on familiar ground – at least, a little! – the day before, when she went to the Jean-Talon market with Charlotte Maurin, Mia Robert, Héra Schneider and Magie Marier, a female quartet in the kitchens of Ratafia. Les Jardins sauvage, Marché des Saveurs, Chez Nino, Épices de cru: she enthusiastically visited the many kiosks, shopping according to her inspirations in anticipation of the four-course menu that was served as part of Montréal en lumière on Tuesday and last Wednesday.
“I was particularly impressed with all that Quebecers do with maple syrup! It’s next level! », remarks the one who opened her first restaurant in Helsinki last November with her lover, after several years spent in Stockholm where the couple notably worked with the renowned Swedish chef Mathias Dahlgren.
Canvas is located in a very small place of barely 20 seats, is only open at lunchtime, does not take reservations and serves creative and seasonal cuisine based on local products, with a reinvented menu each day. In the evening, the restaurant is reserved for private events, and the menu is made in collaboration with customers. The couple do absolutely everything and have no employees – from Helsinki to Montreal, another common point: the difficulty of recruiting restaurant workers.
No doubt, Ina Niiniketo seems to fuel creativity, according to her inspiration of the moment. “Ina and Roni are really laid back! Normally, we work more with lists, but they are completely the opposite. It’s relaxing ! says Magie, dicing gravlax-style marinated apples in Menaud gin and juniper berries for the pre-dessert.
Each year, Montréal en lumière offers for its gastronomic component unique collaborations between some forty good Montreal restaurants and chefs, sommeliers, winegrowers from here and elsewhere. In addition to giving rise to great encounters, these partnerships allow festival-goers to taste unique menus.
Opened in 2019, Ratafia first became known for its elegant and creative dessert menu, and has since integrated a whole savory component to its menu, in addition to working on a counter project where you can get its sweets to take away. For two years, Sandra Forcier, co-owner of Ratafia with her partner Jared Tuck, hoped that her table would be selected by the event, the 24th edition of which ends on March 5.
The team was immediately won over when the organization offered them this collaboration with the young Finnish chef. “Ina sent us her ingredients, her ideas. His very flowery style is already similar to ours, it’s something we like, and we had some great local suppliers to introduce him to,” remarks Magie Marier.
Already, during a meeting by videoconference which La Presse attended at the beginning of February, the ideas were going well: a tartare as an appetizer, with a red meat to be determined, a fish – a Canadian variety, Arctic char maybe ? – as a main course, a dessert with Nordic berries. Ina talks about edible flowers, mushrooms, “cloudberries” – the cloudberry, a small fruit common to both territories, but more difficult to find in Quebec.
One of the only cloudberry producers in Quebec who refused to sell his precious stock to Ratafia, the girls turned to haskap, a berry that Ina did not know at all, supplied by Racines Boréales. “Berries are a very important ingredient for us. I thought we had a lot of varieties in Finland, so I’m very happy to explore and work with this new berry,” adds the chef.
Ina would have liked to work a wild meat in tartare, but discovered with surprise that it was impossible in Quebec (only farmed meat can be served in restaurants). “At Canvas, we almost always use wild meat. It’s more sustainable, because it’s meat that ‘grows’ by itself in the forest, not meat that is produced,” notes the soon-to-be-published second sustainability-themed cookbook. . The first, Flowers on a Plate, written during the pandemic, was dedicated to one of his favorite products: edible flowers.
“I love floral flavors. When I was a child, I lived in Germany for a few years and my best friend was from Iran. It is a cuisine that uses a lot of flowers, such as rose or orange blossom water. I don’t transform the ingredients a lot, I have a rather minimalist approach and I prefer to let them express themselves as they are, but I really like to play around with more punchy flavors. »
Green dukkah to accompany the Arctic char and its delicious white butter, a mixture of spruce shoots from Épices de cru with trumpet of death powder from Jardins Sauvages sprinkled on the beef tartare, Timut pepper to flavor the camerises… Here is an overview of what customers were able to taste at Ratafia this week as part of Montréal en lumière. A beautiful meeting around two nordicities with many hooked atoms!