It may be the influence of Rene Redzepi and Noma, or perhaps it’s down to the incredible rise of the ‘locavore’ movement, but Nordic cuisine is experiencing a level of popularity never before seen. While Denmark seems to take the crown, with Copenhagen boasting 25 Michelin-starred restaurants in and around the city, Finland also boasts four restaurants with the famous rating – more than Greece or the Czech Republic, and far more than New Zealand.
As with most countries which spend almost half the year in darkness, traditional Finnish cuisine was heavy in preserved cabbage, berries, pickled meats and hearty breads. As the country modernised there was the inevitable shift away from traditional but now, again inevitable, Finnish cuisine has come full circle with chefs offering modern interpretations on traditional fare.
“I think the Noma phenomena woke us Finnish chefs up,” said Sasu Laukkonen, owner-chef of the Michelin-starred Chef & Sommelier Restaurant in Helsinki. “It made us think about our own backyards.” Laukkonen’s dishes feature foraged berries, sustainably harvested crayfish from the Gulf of Bothnia, local lamb with heirloom potatoes, accompanied by rye bread and whipped organic butter from the farm down the road.
“Ten years ago we wouldn’t have dreamt of serving Finnish lamb,” Laukkonen said. “Now that is all we serve, as well as locally grown organic fruits and vegetables. We have started to believe in our own produce.”
That being said, not everyone is a fan of the Finns. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who seemingly never suffered from good judgement, started a low-level campaign against Finnish cuisine in 2001, saying “I’ve been to Finland and I had to endure the Finnish diet so I am in a position to make a comparison,” before going on to accuse the Finns of not knowing what Parma Ham is. French President Jacques Chirac claimed that Finland had the worst food in Europe, followed closely by Britain.
The Finns had the last laugh though – in the 2008 America’s Plate International Pizza Contest, the Finnish entry beat out the Italian contender. As a mark of respect to the Italian PM, the Finns called their smoked reindeer pizza the ‘Berlusconi’.