For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

April 18, 2012

Back to Basics
 – the missing link

I made pea soup and Karelian pies. Delicious!

After four months of writing a Master thesis on my native country’s culinary culture, I think I’ve finally found the source of the culinary “problem” in Finland. Ironically, the “problem” is the problem, as most people don’t even consider it a problem. So is there a problem?

Yes and no. Let me break it down to you.

Heard over and over again at home and abroad: “But there is no food culture in Finland!”. Of some reason, however, some of the best chefs from the Nordic region come from Finland and shine even internationally with their savoir-faire, their cutting-edge cuisine techniques and highly developed culinary philosophy. Hold on, aren’t we talking about Denmark here? By no means. I haven’t been away for that long to make the common mistake of mixing up the different Nordic countries or maybe even worse, labelling them all under the rather convenient “Nordic” label.

So if the problem doesn’t lie in the professional culinary expertise or the Finnish culinary culture, where then? After an amazingly inspiring chat with one of my country’s finest chefs following the “New Finnish Cuisine” philosophy as he calls it, I think I’m seeing it clearer than ever. Even though a rapidly growing amount of “average people” have already started opening their eyes to the exquisite abundance of our domestic and natural raw materials embracing them in a rightful way, top chefs, food critics and gastronomic elites still have a vast majority of people to convert and convince in favour of the newest trend in Finnish food culture. How can it be so hard? The recipe is easy: Back to basics. And it’s not like the Finns don’t get it. I mean if you ask a Finn about his/her most delicious Finnish food memory, the person will most certainly start praising his/her grand mother’s home cooking, the so called comfort food – the most basic Finnish food there is. Bingo!

But somehow the link between our grandparents’ food mentality and the contemporary culinary reality is missing. Born in the mid 80s, I can remember “home food” being unworthy of serving even to the kid next door. What to cook that would be special, tasty and interesting enough was my Mum’s biggest problem, as the normal and average, basic home food was problematic to serve. But why, for Heaven’s sake?

I must admit that for long I wasn’t any better myself. It took some radical auto-convincing even for me to be able to proudly serve an honest, rather rustic traditional Finnish dish to my food loving French friends for example. And when I finally got over the fear of it not being a “good enough”, I really had to put grand restraints on myself to not ruin the delicate flavours with “unnatural” and/or foreign flavour elements. I can tell you that it takes great courage to add nothing but salt (and maybe, only maybe, in some cases, some ground black pepper). Respect to those who do it all the time!

Okay, I have to let you all in on a secret, the secret of the “New Finnish Cuisine” in fact. It’s also very simple in the end. It's about turning so-called problem to your advantage. Look at it this way: Instead of spending loads of money on rare and costly foreign ingredients, then using hours and hours on trying to find special, new recipes that you’re hardly able to understand, you should invest in high quality, super fresh, locally produced raw materials and call your granny for inspiration. There. Now you know it.

To sum it up for you, the problem is two-fold. One: The lack of balls and self-confidence in our own Finnish culinary simplicity and raw material capacity. Two: The misunderstanding for “good quality” and “bon goût”. Whether you like to call it “beautification”, “a culinary revolution”, “an elitist project” or “culinary fascism” at its harshest, we need to go back to basics. Don’t get me wrong though, we shouldn’t toss contemporary evolution, technical know-how and avant-garde culinary ethics out the window. We just have to take a step back without taking a step back.

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