Text and photos: Makoto Chiba

With summer in full swing and the midsummer spectacle of Juhannus right behind us, do you crave an extraordinary dining experience?

If your answer is ‘YES,’ then you’re in the right spot. On the periphery of Ruissalo Island, the hidden gem Eatery Alex 1917 stands surrounded by enchanting forests and the tranquil sea. You’ll indulge in a fusion of flavors that will keep you coming back for more.

Meet Richy

–Since the age of 14, I have been working as a chef all around the world.

Richy Virahsawmy, the owner and chef of Eatery Alex 1917, has had a fabulous career. He has worked as a chef for the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and for the famous American Irish dancer Michael Flatleyr. He is also known as a TV chef in Ireland, having attended several TV shows for over six years. He has also written a cookbook.

While being a chef on television, Richy has also become known as a talented businessman who ran Richy’s Restaurant and R Cafe for over 18 years in Cork, Ireland. He sold his restaurant five years ago due to his move to Finland.

This is the story of an Irish chef who moved to Finland four years ago and decided to start his journey as an entrepreneur in a sustainable restaurant business.

What inspired you to become a chef?

– I have been working in the kitchen since the age of 14, and the passion for food has always been in my heart. Most importantly, my mother has had a huge impact on my cooking career which shapes my cooking style today. –All the chefs I have worked with have influenced me greatly. If I have to pick two examples, I’d mention Paul Whittick, who was Executive Chef at the Cumberland Hotel in London, and John Rogers at Rowhill Grange.

Farm to Fork restaurant, from Cork to Ruissalo

– At my restaurant in Ireland, everything was local. We were very lucky that across the road we had a dairy, and just behind the other corner was our abattoir. Our restaurant was close to the sea, so we had seafood smokers, cheesemakers, and dairy. We were surrounded by local producers all the time. We also had very rich pastures. And I think Ireland probably punches above its weight as a country that produces food. It has a very rich culture in that sense.

– In my yard, I also had a polytunnel for my herbs and different vegetables which I used in my restaurant and cafe every day. Since our restaurant focused on the circular economy, everything was utilized many times during their life cycle: the organic waste from the restaurant and home was used to feed pigs in the farm. Using things twice, or three times, and being ethical kept our production costs significantly down.

– In Turku, as a good example of local ingredients, I’d like to tell you about Dexter beef. It’s actually originally from Ireland. I found a producer of Dexter beef about 45 minutes north of Turku. Their herd is 100 percent grass fed and they are certified organic. The Dexter beef has the same DNA traits and flavor as Japanese Wagyu beef, but it is much more affordable.

– Another example is asparagus from a farm located in Savo. The producer told me that Finnish restaurants don’t buy her asparagus because of its wonky shape. I was told about the story of the asparagus and the soil where it grows.The soil contains remains of a seabed and it is very mineral-rich. The asparagus growing through that soil has a unique flavor and differs from the other varieties of asparagus found on market.

Inspiration from Finnish nature

– In my opinion, Finland underwrites itself sometimes. Finland has all the seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and a snowy winter. I think it’s very rare that a country has all of those four seasons.

– On the contrary, in Ireland we have continuous rainy weather. Winter is dark, gloomy and rainy, and summer is still rainy. But here in Finland, we’re quite lucky to have +32 degrees Celsius in the summer and then -32 in winter. We can really see nature coming alive. You can get lots of inspiration from nature throughout the year. For example, having all the wild berries, spruce tips, deer, and mushrooms on our doorstep, and to be able to use them in my culinary creation.

“Chef’s Table” at Eatery Alex

– The Chef’s Table concept is about using ingredients from local farmers and suppliers, and showcasing them in a menu of six to ten courses. The menu introduces a number of seasonal products of high quality. Chef’s Table is all about creating a great experience for our guests.

– At the Chef’s Table, we share the story of why we’re using these specific ingredients and sourcing them from suppliers. Working closely with the farmers gives us the creative freedom to change the menu seasonally. Chefs quite often get labeled into a certain style, but we try to avoid this. We are constantly in search of new local farmers and suppliers and while listening to their stories and experiences, we can plan how to maximize the potential of the ingredients in our menu. Through Chef’s Table, we build networks with local producers and create an excellent food experience in the heart of Ruissalo.

Your tips and advice for the new and younger entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry?

– It wasn’t until I owned my own restaurant that I realized how big of an impact cost management has on one’s business. It is all about efficiency. It is similar to running a marathon. If you want to run longer, you have to learn how to run efficiently and sustainably. There are many amazing young chefs and I think we need to enhance the importance of understanding the administrative side of the restaurant business. Chefs need to be excellent in cooking, but at the same time they have to be able to deal with limited budgets while working closely with suppliers.

– Another advice is to stay away from processed foods. Using processed foods takes the origin of the meal far away from the customer. We have to also keep in mind that we have the responsibility to work with local producers, which leads to a win-win situation: we get to utilize seasonal, local ingredients that we can obtain easily and fast, and the farmers have a stable income.

– I think these are really important values that should be the normal standard in this industry. We should encourage young chefs and restaurants to work with local suppliers and create a community where both parties benefit from each other.

Eatery Alex 1917 is open daily throughout the summer.
Pursiseuranranta 30, 20100 Turku

Text and photos: Makoto Chiba