Tomi Björck – Business-Minded Chef
Restaurateur – Entrepreneur – TV Personality
Tomi is one of the most known and cherished restaurateurs and chefs in Finland. Many know him from TV cooking series and have visited Tomi's unique restaurants in Helsinki. His love for Asian kitchen has brought so much joy for many Finns, Swedes and Australians. Tomi lives with his family, wife Minka and two boys, both in Helsinki and Sydney.
Passion for good food
Tomi started to work as a trainee cook in Hanko in Jonathan in summer 1996 when he was only 15 years old. Sports like hockey, football and martial arts had always been very important for him but food and cooking really stole Tomi’s heart that summer.
That passion has never died after the first summer. After his studies in restaurant school Fellmanni Institut and several summer jobs, Tomi was ready for bigger challenges. In 1999 he left to work in Spain and after military service Tomi was already working in the best restaurants in Helsinki like Havis Amanda and Alexander Nevski.
- I have always wanted to improve myself to get better and better. That’s why I wanted to work with best of the best. Hans Välimäki and Chez Dominique with his Michelin stars was one of those. I learned something new every day. I think that has brought me here where I am today.
Michelin star restaurants
After Chez Dominique life took Tomi to London for a year to work in Michelin star restaurants Pied à Terre and Orrery. When back in Helsinki Tomi was helping his friends in Savoy and Yume in Kämp Gallery for a while and then went back to Chez Dominique again.
Dream came true
- Opening my own restaurant has been my biggest dream from the beginning but the time wasn’t right yet. In 2005, me and my wife Minka decided to travel to Australia. It was the most distant country from Finland that came to our mind. The plan was just to surf and take it easy but I was so lucky to have a chance to start working in Quay, the best restaurant in Australia back then. Again, it was long hours and so much to learn.
- After Quay I got in to Longrain to work as an assistant chef. They were doing modern Thai food. Something clicked and I new I had found my soulmate. The idea of my first own restaurant was born and Farang opened its doors in 2009.
Bringing the world to Helsinki
- The most important thing in my work is to create something new. I enjoy bringing new ideas and tastes from my trips from all over the world and serve them to my guests in Helsinki. I want to create an illusion as if you have been abroad that one evening. This is the base on which the whole BW Restaurant company was built including Farang, Gaijin, Boulevard Social, Bronda and many more.
- All my restaurants are travelogues telling each it’s unique story. I am a storyteller and host, and I love it. For me it’s very important to work for the quality year after year keeping the high standards. After 11 years there were 150 guests in Farang one summer Monday. It has become a classic and destination. We have done something right.
- Farang is my firstborn but Gaijin is my favourite one. After 9 years, It’s still full almost every evening. Gaijin was the first space where we could execute the whole concept as planned: food and interior, the whole customer experience. In Gaijin, for the first time, I finally could show what kind of things I wanted to build.
A three look man
Tomi is living most of his time in Sydney where it’s very hot almost 6 months. That brings some challenges how to dress for the everyday. You don’t need too formal pieces, but some style anyway.
- I have three styles. In Sydney I usually look like a beach bum wearing shorts and sleeveless t-shirt. It’s impossible to wear even sock during the hottest period. My all day look is jeans or khaki pants and t-shirt with nice sneakers. Like for many men, sometimes it feels a bit difficult to find the right pieces matching with each other. Men don’t like shopping. So if I find a good and easy place to go, I am your loyal friend forever.
It's in the details
- I like to dress up when going out for a nice dinner. I have many cool blazers that I have bought all over the world. When using them it’s fun to be very careful with details. I am a watch person so it’s very important that I have the right watch with a matching pocket square. I like to wear dark outfits with small distinct details.
Comfort meets style
- I have fallen in love with these black Seppo wool blend trousers from FRENN. One day I ran straight from MasterChef TV shooting to a business meeting and after that to the new restaurant renovation site to check how things were going there. I can’t think any more comfortable and stylish trousers than these. They are my new premium college trousers. They are so easy to use only with t-shirt or with matching black and lightweight jacket, also one of my favourites.
Try on and relax
- FRENN challenges me to try something new. This is a great collection of long-lasting pieces that you can combine with each other so easily. You have one versatile wardrobe where you can add pieces to one by one. I have learned that stylish clothing doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. On the contrary.
- In Sydney I can use my linen pieces from FRENN. White linen shirt with black linen trousers will be my favourite outfit in Sydney when we go back in December. I can wear them in almost any occasion. Can’t wait.
- Antti and Jarkko have created something great for this new everyday mobile living. And everything is sustainable and transparent, I really value that.
Tomi and his family have two home countries: Finland and Australia. Sydney is their home nowadays but they always enjoy coming back to Helsinki. Tomi’s roots are strongly in Finland. That’s why his mission is to develop Finnish food and restaurant scene.
- In Finland, it’s very easy and uncomplicated to do business. That’s why I come back here time after time to open new places. I see Helsinki and Finland a bit different way than my friends living here. Being away for a while opens your eyes for smaller things than you normally do.
- Finnish people are very open to new things. For me, that has been a bit surprising after seeing so much. They are always waiting for new tastes and menus and I appreciate that. It's great to serve this wonderful country.
- I started to get tattoos for the first time in 1999 when I was working in Spain. Nowadays I have only one small spot without any ink. I love these figures and stories. Like my restaurants, all my tattoos are memories from my journeys and trips from all over the world.
- The tattoo that you see in the photo, is our wedding vow. Me and Minka, we both have the same. I think it's very romantic.
Something new again
- Five years ago, in 2015, we moved back to Australia after opening many restaurants in Helsinki. I really needed a break. I promised to my family not to open any new restaurant. After surfing and sleeping for half a year, I had a new concept ready in my head. I just couldn’t be doing anything so I opened Blanca, the white restaurant, about three years ago in Sydney on Bondi Beach. I can’t help myself.
- While living and working in Sydney again, new ideas came to me. I wanted to do something new, something smaller with my very dear friends with same passion and values. A new team was born: Serko Rantanen, Ronny Malmberg, Mika Ranin and my lovely wife Minka Björck. I am the father of the idea, but I always want to work with a great team, never alone.
Opening August 14th
After almost 3 years of secret planning, Tomi will open a new restaurant with his new team in Helsinki at Erottaja 4 on Friday August 14th. Lily Lee offers modern Chinese food with a twist from Hong Kong and Taiwan in a very mystique and sexy environment.
- Once again I wanted to create something new, a powerful journey for my customers, not only great food. When I visited Taiwan for the first time, it really hit me. I wanted to bring piece of that to Helsinki. The bar area reminds me of Hong Kong with murals on the wall, red lights and candles. It will be very cool, I promise.
- In late October there will be another new exotic restaurant in Helsinki, but I can’t tell more about yet. So stay tuned for more!
Tomi laughs like he usually does and runs to check how things are going in his new restaurant which is opening very soon.
Get to know Tomi better on his Instagram @tomibjorck
Location: Lily Lee during the renovation
Photos: Eeva Suutari