Pirkko Riutta works in the Ambassador’s official Residence since more than 30 years. She cooks all the food that is served in the Residence and is – despite having her roots in Finland – well versed in the art of Swedish cuisine. Ivana Kapustová also works, part-time, in the Residence as a cleaner. (Pirkko to the left and Ivana to the right in the photo). It sometimes gets hectic and with long days, when, for example, a business breakfast for representatives of Swedish-connected companies in the Czech Republic is followed by a lunch for colleagues from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which is just around the corner, literally) and then ends with a dinner on the occasion of a visiting Swedish delegation.
We asked Pirkko what changes she has observed during her many years as a cook in the Swedish Residence:
- Well, generally, the food is lighter these days and probably also a bit healthier. More vegetables and fish, and a lot less meat, is served, which is also good for the environment, of course. Also the presentation nowadays – when almost all food is served directly on the plate and not by waiters on big serving dishes – has become more important. There’s also much less consumption of alcohol today than in the old days, which of course is a sign of health also. On the other hand, an increasing number of guests have dietary requirements or restrictions that we need to try to cater for, for example they may require food free from gluten or lactose. Such products, e.g. gluten-free flour of different kinds, are still not as easy to find in the Czech Republic as in, say, Sweden or Finland. So, sometimes it can be a bit tricky to make sure that all dietary needs are met at the same time, especially when there are many guests and the food should preferably look rather similar and taste delicious for everyone.
Do you have any favorite ingredients that you are fond of using in your cooking?
- Absolutely! For example, lemon peppar, a mix of spices which regrettably is still not available here which is why I’m grateful that members of the Embassy help me bring when they go on trips to Sweden. The same, of course, also goes for three of my absolute favorites – Kalix whitefish roe, Västerbotten cheese and cloudberries. So wonderful and delicious to be able to serve our guests, but unfortunately both expensive and cumbersome to transport here to Prague. For, so far not even IKEA – where otherwise we are quite good customers, especially of food – has started to offer these more luxurious items in their small “Swedish shops”.
Finally, Pirkko, could you please share with us one of your favorite recipes?
- I would be happy to. Then I would like to take the opportunity to “promote” another favorite of mine, cheesecake from Småland (photo). It’s always a great success! It was also a great hit, by the way, when we served it some time ago at the big joint Nordic-Baltic National Day celebration, which is arranged every year by the Nordic and Baltic embassies here in Prague.
In the embassy’s beautiful garden there are many flowers that Pirkko often also uses, in season, to decorate especially the desserts. Lavender flowers give a wonderful flavor to the ice-cream that Pirkko makes herself and, during the last few years, rhubarb has also been available in the garden, in addition to various herbs. Just as in Sweden, many Czechs like to pick wild berries and mushrooms and so it happens that members of the Embassy help supply the Residence’s kitchen with e.g. handpicked chanterelles. We also hope to become self-sufficient pretty soon with honey from the Embassy’s beehive.