A new generation of Estonian chefs is feeding a culinary revolution by mixing Scandi-style cooking with traditional flavours to create innovative dishes at affordable prices
Behind the medieval city of Tallinn, a former Hanseatic port and a Unesco world heritage site, the woods run to the Russian border. The Estonians have sought their shelter in times of trouble: forest covers 90% of this tiny EU country on the Baltic, and with Russia next door, trouble has never been hard to find. “The forest is a fur coat,” says an Estonian proverb. But now it offers more than warmth and shelter: a young generation of Estonian chefs are using it to feed a cooking revolution, too.
Whether it’s spruce shoots or pickled ramsons, blackcurrant leaves or grated green pine cones, Estonian chefs are returning to the forest – and to the miles of Baltic sea that ring the stony beaches of the coast and islands – using the startlingly brief warm summers to track down folk flavours that they combine and adapt in unexpected ways. This is the “new Nordic” cuisine as pioneered at Noma in Copenhagen by René Redzepi, with an Estonian twist: fresh, local, making the most of its seasons. And unlike Noma, it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Estonian chefs don’t have a big middle-class clientele to cater for, so it remains good value.