Finnish born, ex-Marque chef Pasi Petanen is doing strange and wonderful things at his pop-up restaurant in Sydney. Don't be fooled by the dill and rye on the menu – Pasi's not in Finland anymore.
By
April Smallwood

14 Apr 2014 - 1:01 PM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2014 - 3:54 PM

What was for breakfast, Pasi? My wife accidentally bought brioche. So I've got that with ham, cheese and mustard. And a Kinder Easter egg was in the lunchbox as well. Haven’t eaten it yet. You must be loved. I was away in Melbourne for three days, maybe that’s why. What do you eat when you’re lazy? Happy Chef in Newtown. I like the combination laksa there. Or stir-fried noodles with chicken.

What's a quality you look for in staff? Enthusiasm. As long as they’re willing to learn – that’s the main thing. You can see it straight away. Do you consider yourself a good judge of character? I believe so. I’ve made mistakes as well, but you can quickly see if somebody wants it enough.

Does it upset you that Finnish food isn't as well known as, say, Thai? It upsets me more that people compare what I do to Finnish food. There are influences from my background, but it's not Finnish food. I do use a lot of dill and rye, which is fine and sort of trendy these days, but the end result is not 100 per cent Finnish. Where do you hatch your menu? In the kitchen. But not at home. The best way is when you’re working and can talk to the other guys for feedback. So you’re never alone for that process? Sometimes, but I think the best ideas come when you have people around. Because sometimes my ideas are just stupid and you need them to say, “That’s dumb – we can’t do that”.

Early critics and diners have said wonderful things about you and Cafe Paci. How much of that surprised you? A lot. I wasn’t expecting it. It’s a good thing, but also puts a lot of pressure on you to make it better and better and better. Everybody liked everything straight away. So now we try to please the returning customers and their expectations from reading really good write-ups. Does pressure affect you positively? It’s both. The first menu we did, which everyone reviewed, came very easily. We decided on it pretty much a week before, had a tasting on Thursday, cooked them for the first time on Tuesday and they all worked.

You'll likely close up shop on Cafe Paci next year due to the limited lease. Will you miss it here? I like the space. There’s a good atmosphere when it’s busy, but when you have a quiet night, it’s like being in church.

 

Experience Pasi's menu at Cafe Paci in East Sydney.