Mickael Viljanen, The Greenhouse, Dublin

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Other 21st February 2013

In association with

Finnish-born Mickael Viljanen is the head chef of The Greenhouse, Dublin, a restaurant established in 2012 by his business partner and restaurateur Eamonn O’Reilly, who is also behind the Dublin restaurant One Pico. He has previously worked for four years as Executive Chef at Gregans Castle, a Georgian-style house situated near the village of Ballyvaughan in County Claire. Before this he was with Paul Flynn at The Tannery in County Waterford. Mickael was raised in an urban environment in Pori, Finland and chose catering college over university. He worked on a cruise ship before getting a head-chef position at the age of 23 at a restaurant in his home city called PK’s. Mickael is making a name for himself with his innovative food which is unlike other restaurants in the capital, combining Finnish and Irish cooking techniques to produce a distinctive style. He likes to create dishes on the spur of the moment making use of whatever unusual ingredients he is offered, such as duck hearts, pig’s head, burnt aubergine and milk solids. Louise Thomas spoke to him about his approach to food and produce, and why he thinks they have survived the recession in Ireland. What was the attraction to bring you and your career to Ireland?  To be honest, I was drinking in the pub and met an Irish lad who said there were plenty of jobs in Ireland. Four days later I was on the plane and I’ve been here since. I am originally from Finland and I was working in Helsinki before I came over to Ireland for the first time in 2000. I stayed here for four years and then went back home for two years. I returned to Ireland in 2007 to work at the Tannery restaurant in County Waterford with Paul Flynn, before I went to Gregans Castle in County Clare, which is a little manor house in the middle of nowhere. I moved to Dublin last March and joined The Greenhouse. We’re a small restaurant with small menus. We’re open five days a week for lunch and dinner, and serve up to 45 covers. Tell us more about the concept behind the Greenhouse and the food you do here. There’s no concept; it’s very straightforward. For lunch we have the menu du jour, which is 2-2-2, or our five-course surprise menu. For dinner, we offer three, five or seven courses. On our surprise menu, some of the dishes will be from the à la carte menu and some of the dishes will be daily specials, so if I get in some lovely halibut or some beautiful beetroots then they will go on. We try to make our food tasty and we keep it simple. We cook food we would like to eat ourselves. It’s no more complicated than that. How has Dublin and Ireland changed and influenced what you are doing in the kitchen? Dublin’s doing really well, it’s busy, but the rest of the country is still suffering from the recession. We have a lot of regular clientele now: the dishes are simple, the food is good and people appreciate that. 60% of our customers take the surprise menu, 30% take seven courses and 10% will take the set menu; that’s the way we like it. The concepts, the dishes can change and we will tailor the menus to what produce is at its best and available at that time. You can’t pigeonhole what we do here: it’s not Finnish, it’s not French and it’s not Irish. It’s a bit of everything. Do you still feel a strong affiliation towards Finnish cooking and techniques? A lot of the cooking has strong acidic and sweet flavours running through it, which is common in Finnish cooking. It’s what I’m used to eating and what I like to cook. We’ll try the dishes, if they work they go on the menu; if they don’t work then they’ll go in the bin. There’s no particular influence; yes, there are certain elements of cooking or flavours that I like from home, but the restaurant isn’t dictated by Finnish or Irish cooking. We buy the best ingredients, at the best time, and try to treat them well; that’s what we do. It’s not rocket science here, no molecular gastronomy. It is about decent food and decent service. How do you go about sourcing your produce? Do you source mainly from Irish suppliers or do you ship anything in? I couldn’t care as long as it’s good. Having soil on a carrot doesn’t make it a better carrot. If it’s a good carrot, it’s a good carrot. If the local produce is better, then we will use local produce; if it’s better somewhere else then we’ll buy that. I want to buy the best produce, wherever it is. People are paying money, real money, to eat in our restaurant and I want to give them the best experience for their money. Of course, I care where things come from: we don’t use battery chickens, bad beef, but does it really matter if it comes from 20km down the road or 120km? We don’t only use organic, we don’t only use local – we’ll use what’s the best of what’s available. How do you feel Irish diners expectations differ to those in other parts of the world? Is there a difference and how have you made your food accessible to the local community? I don’t think they differ. Eating out isn’t cheap: if you buy good ingredients and you employ enough staff to look after your customers then you can’t run a cheap operation. People’s expectations get higher by the week: they travel more, they know more, they have more access to things through television and the Internet, they eat out more. Eating out in Ireland has changed a lot since I first arrived in Ireland – it’s a million miles ahead of where it used to be. We’re never going to please everyone – if you please everyone then you’re doing something wrong. We do what we like, and people have taken to that, they like it and we’ve been lucky with that. Yes, we’ll have the odd customer who feels the food isn’t for them, but every restaurant will experience that. Ireland only has a handful of Michelin stars: do you feel it’s harder to be recognised outside of the UK? You’re either good enough or you’re not. You can make excuses until the cows come home, but I have no interest. You have it or you don’t. No excuses. It was predicted that you would get a Michelin star last October, which you didn’t achieve. Are you aiming of a star? I’ve listened to that sh*t so many times. I could have spent two years worrying about how to please Michelin. Listen, I have a full restaurant every service and at the end of the day that’s the most important thing. We cook what we want; people are happy; we’re making a profit – these are the most important things. I don’t know what Michelin want or what they don’t want, but I’m not worried. It’s a bonus if it comes, but it won’t affect my world if it doesn’t come. Often the people who try and predict what Michelin will or won’t do, know even less than I do about what Michelin do or do not want, so I have to take it with a pinch of salt. Anyone who says they don’t want a star or would be unhappy receiving a star are lying, but it’s not the aim of our business and what we do at The Greenhouse. You’ve been at The Greenhouse for almost a year now: do you find you’ve found your feet and your cooking style and what are your goals for the restaurant? Everything changes; everything progresses naturally. There’s no such thing as a cooking style. I might like something for two weeks, then move on to the next thing, or I’ve seen so much of it over the past two weeks that I don’t want to cook it any more. Maybe there’s an element of what I do that stays the same, but it’s unconscious: the flavours or the way we use the produce – maybe you can see a running theme in our food. I wouldn’t say I’ve settled, I don’t know if you can ever be settled, or if I would want to be. Especially as we’re offering small menus, we have to keep them moving all the time.  Yes, you find a way you like to work, you work on the dishes, you put out dishes that you’re proud of and that you like, but you’re always pushing, always developing, changing – it’s constant movement.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Other 21st February 2013

Mickael Viljanen, The Greenhouse, Dublin

You may also like...

Chef Fatih Tutak on returning to Turkey to drive the country's food culture forward
#thestaffcanteenmeets

Chef Fatih Tutak on returning to Turkey to drive the country's food culture forward

The Staff Canteen

Giulio Sturla on bringing the Mugaritz ethos to New Zealand
#thestaffcanteenmeets

Giulio Sturla on bringing the Mugaritz ethos to New Zealand

The Staff Canteen

Josh Niland, chef owner, Saint Peter and Fish Butchery, Australia
#thestaffcanteenmeets

Josh Niland, chef owner, Saint Peter and Fish Butchery, Australia

The Staff Canteen

Luke Dale-Roberts, chef owner, The Test Kitchen
#thestaffcanteenmeets

Luke Dale-Roberts, chef owner, The Test Kitchen

The Staff Canteen

Nathan Rich, executive chef, Twin Farms
#thestaffcanteenmeets

Nathan Rich, executive chef, Twin Farms

The Staff Canteen

Anatoly Kazakov, head chef, Selfie
#thestaffcanteenmeets

Anatoly Kazakov, head chef, Selfie

The Staff Canteen

Noah Sandoval, chef owner, Oriole
#thestaffcanteenmeets

Noah Sandoval, chef owner, Oriole

The Staff Canteen

Dominique Crenn, chef owner, Atelier Crenn
#thestaffcanteenmeets

Dominique Crenn, chef owner, Atelier Crenn

The Staff Canteen

George Dingle, chef de cuisine, Monsieur Benjamin
#thestaffcanteenmeets

George Dingle, chef de cuisine, Monsieur Benjamin

The Staff Canteen

Valentino Cassanelli, head chef, Lux Lucis
#thestaffcanteenmeets

Valentino Cassanelli, head chef, Lux Lucis

The Staff Canteen