sponsored booklet on how to eat the crayfish, and a song book for the traditional after-dinner singing
at the table.
The strong interest in organics manifests at many Helsinki restaurants. Pure Bistro near the
harbor offers a wide, fresh menu and organic bread baked with seaweed. Café Engel across from the
cathedral offers specials such as beet burgers with mushrooms in a sour cream sauce.
At Restaurant Ask, guests receive a welcome box. The Finnish word ask means box, and the
square “bread box” arrives with tempting crunch: rice crackers with dried black trumpet mushrooms,
flatbread with fennel and oak, and corn and seed crackers. Chef/owner Filip Langhoff supports
organic purveyors. “We eat organic food at home. I believe we should cook organic food here,” he
says. “It’s more sustainable. We’ve stopped importing Nordic herbs—we use dried Finnish herbs in
winter. I don’t want to serve Nordic molecular gastronomy. I’ll cook outside the box with traditional
A typical Restaurant Ask menu may include beef tartare peeking out under kohlrabi and broccoli.
Whitefish, broccoli and butter are a silky-smooth and light combination. Dessert may include wild
blueberries, caramelized white chocolate ice cream and waffle garnished with sorrel.
Another small, refined dining experience originates at Chef & Sommelier. Chef/owner Sasu
Laukkonen picks produce from his urban garden and sources organic, natural and fair-trade products.
Laukkonen recently traveled to New York for a Nordic Food Festival, but eschews the Nordic label.
“If modern technique is the only thing, then you’re prone to forget about raw materials,” he says.
The chef is outspoken about making the customer the focus of the dining experience, and handwrites menus with just eight items. “I’ve had enough of the restaurants that say, ‘Here’s your nine-course meal,’” he says. “If you order two starters or two desserts, that’s fine by us.”
Though the dishes sound simple, presentations are complex. “Potato and sunflower” offers
unusual crispy sunflower buds that add an unexpected flavor punch to the dish. “Baby lamb and
pumpkin” is slow-cooked shoulder, fillet fried in crushed pumpkin seeds, and confit.
diversity: Michelin stars and tapas
The food culture of Helsinki is one of local products and creative chefs. But there are many
examples of global food. Terävä’s newest Helsinki dining spot Emo is a clone of top tapas bars in
Barcelona. The tapas menu serves black pig Ibérico pork, crispy pork belly and a spicy gazpacho.
A local TV celebrity, Terävä has worked in Italy and France and traveled in Spain, but is now
grounded in his homeland. At Michelin-starred Olo, he prepares reindeer shot by his uncle. “Olo
shows you how close to nature we are here,” he says.
Dinner at Olo can be a “Journey” that lasts all evening or the “Shorter Way” for two hours.
Housemade bread from local grains is baked in individual molds and served with churn butter.
Entrees range from pike-perch with Jerusalem artichoke to ox short ribs with beets.
Mäkelä sees the current state of food culture in Helsinki as a place where many chefs and
cooks are taking historic food and updating it. “Finns value their native products,” she says. “They
understand the past and update it. Not remake it, but renew it.”
DEBOrAH GrOSSMAN IS A SAN Fr ANCISCO BAy ArEA JOUrNALIS T WHO WrI TES ABOU T PEOPLE, PLACES AND PrODUC TS THA T IMPAC T THE
a finnish chef’s tale
in the u.s.
Chef Mikko Kosonen knows Finnish
food as well as anyone in the U.S.
A native Finn, he served as
executive chef of the Finnish
Embassy in Washington, D.C., for
16 years until 2013. Now a caterer,
Kosonen cooked many state dinners
and events during his tenure.
“People always love Finnish food,”
he says. “We served cloudberries,
the not-too-sweet berry that looks
like a yellow raspberry. We used
sea buckthorn, a slightly sour berry,
and lingonberries, which are similar
to cranberries. Mushrooms played
a key role. As for reindeer, yes, we
served it, but people had mixed
feelings. Their first reaction often
was, ‘Oh, my, this is Rudolph.’ But
once they tasted it, they liked it.”
Kosonen also ladled up the clear
fish soup with dill, löjron, or orange
caviar traditionally from vendace,
or Baltic herring patties. The chef
smoked his own seafood, fish and
meat such as elk strip loin, duck
breast, pork tenderloin, shrimp
or whitefish. Smoked salmon was
popular, as were his mushroom
specialties. He foraged for forest
mushrooms, preserved them in salt,
and served them with mayonnaise
and creme fraiche. Kosonen used
a special licorice product, salted
licorice, or salmiakki, in ice cream,
which was well-received.
What didn’t stay on the menu?
Vorschmack, made from ground
lamb and herring, and ruisleipä (rye
bread) stuffed with vendace and
With Nordic cuisine gaining cult
status, Kosonen is busy catering
Finnish and Nordic cuisine in