Restaurant of the Week: Leib, Tallinn by Janno Lepik & Kristjan Peäske
We’re excited to introduce Chef Janno Lepik and Sommelier Kristjan Peäske, the duo behind Leib, one of Estonia’s best restaurants.
Leib, which means black bread in Estonian, is famous for sourcing all its ingredients from local farms and thus supporting small Estonian farmers and fishermen. And all dishes are perfectly matched with the ideal wine by Sommelier Kristjan Peäske.
Let’s see what the two masterminds behind Leib had to say about their work, Estonian cuisine, and future projects.
What inspired you to become a chef?
Janno Lepik: I was lucky enough to have delicious meals from my mother on daily bases. So I was spoiled on eating well. Becoming a chef felt a natural step.
What inspired you to become a sommelier?
Kristjan Peäske: As I started my path in restaurants, I found myself in a situation where my guests new much more about wines than I did.
I understood that it is essential to grow in wines in order to offer great experiences, so I went to a sommelier school.
As the school brought structured knowledge and beautiful wines to taste my desire for knowledge received an extra layer – a passion for eating and drinking well and sharing this with our guests.
Where did you train to cook? Do you recommend formal training for someone who wants to become a chef, for example culinary school?
Janno Lepik: I started in a local vocational school but of course the biggest teacher for me was my time in London. I think it is important to build up your base from basics and for that culinary school is perfect.
You can always add additional experience and well needed money if you work a bit on the side in a restaurant. Then of course you need to build up, it is essential to make smart choices in your youth in order to grow your base.
Where did you train to become a sommelier? What are the natural skills someone must have to become a successful sommelier?
Kristjan Peäske: I studied at Estonian Sommelier School. Sommelier work is always about your guests, therefore it is essential that you love hosting people and taking care of others.
Of course you need to study hard and you also have to know your wine geography, history, and develop your pallet but for me these are the expertise one can always learn.
Above all a great sommelier is a host, a host in the world of wine.
Tell us a bit about Estonian cuisine? What makes it special and what are the top Estonian dishes we absolutely need to try out?
Janno Lepik: We Estonians come from a rather poor background, therefore our food has been rather rustic and simple. My absolute favorites are fermented black bread, handmade butter and pan-fried Baltic herring.
Tell us a bit about the local wine culture. Do clients generally prefer imported wines? How does the local wine industry look like?
Kristjan Peäske: Estonia is located up in the north and though we grow a few grapes and make some decent wine, we will never be a traditional wine making country.
To me our treasure holds in berry wines. We have a great history in those, and they are making their way back with surprising quality. Also craft beers and artisanal distilleries are all becoming really popular.
What do you regard as the quintessential Estonian ingredient and dish?
Janno Lepik: Butter and fermented black bread
What’s the best travel destination for a foodie in Estonia?
Both: If you want to explore the best restaurants, eat well and spoil yourself, then Tallinn is your city, offering also excellent value for money compared to European big cities.
If you look for a little adventure, our heart belongs to Saaremaa and neighboring Muhu island. As surprising as it might sound you will find everything from high end (Pädase Manor) to very easy going pheasant cuisine.
Tell us about your work at Leib? What is the concept and what was the inspiration for the menu?
Both: As we are both coming from the countryside it only felt right to go back to our roots. We are building new Estonian kitchen playing with local ingredients from small farms, local forests and the sea.
Our menu is small and simple, as we have privilege to work with high quality ingredients we want to keep their flavors as natural as possible.
What’s the most popular food and wine item on the menu?
Both: Our menu is changing with the seasons so that’s hard to say. Just before the closure, one of the starters was slow cooked neck of Muhu lamb with roasted celeriac and sauerkraut paired with Bodegas Pesquera Crianza.
You have international food experience working in renowned London restaurants. What’s the most striking difference between the food scene in London compared to Tallinn?
Janno Lepik: When returning from London in 2006, the difference was really night and day in everything. But a lot has happened in Estonia in the past 16 years. I just came back from a culinary trip in London and I would say that today it is rather a matter of details.
You are regarded as one of the best new Estonian chefs. What sets a top chef apart from the pack?
Janno Lepik: Best new Estonian chefs – these are big words which I would not use myself really. For me what it takes to become a great chef is willingness for hard work and long hours, being always ready to study something new, travel and experience. Being a chef is not a profession, it is a life style.
How do you stay competitive in the restaurant industry?
Both: You can never become old and tired, you have to grow and study. We have about 3-4 culinary trips each year including some of our core staff members. It is crucial to learn from those trips and to boil it all together into your own vision. You can never be lazy in this business and have to be always ready to discover and learn.
We have about 3-4 culinary trips each year including some of our core staff members. It is crucial to learn from those trips and to boil it all together into your own vision.
Of course this does not mean that you have to go along with each new trend on the market, you still have to know your core. Yet you have to have that element of surprise to offer when guests are in your dining room.
Do you have a signature dish or a favorite dish that you enjoy cooking?
Janno: They are constantly changing all the time. I currently find it real fun to test different cuts of meat and vegetables on an open fire.
What’s you favorite wine(s)?
Kristjan: If I really need to pick one, it is Riesling, a grape variety that offers so many different styles but almost always keeps its elegance and freshness.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become a chef?
Janno: If it feels right just go for it and don’t look back. Enjoy changes it makes and be ready that your friends might forget your name as you are working when they are having parties.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become a sommelier?
Kristjan: Take the best choice possible to work with a great mentor, somebody who takes you along and shares his / her experience. Be open and keep in mind that it is not about you, it is about your guests.