I should preface this post by stating that Chef Peter Elfving from Bistro Sinne is happily married, with two young children and about to build a new home complete with a wood-heated sauna.
But that doesn’t make him any less worthy of Chef Crush status, in fact spending the last 12 hours with him has been the highlight of Finland.
When I come to a country I am always fascinated by traditional dishes and how they produce food.
So far I have discovered that food in Finland is much like Canada in that winter dishes are meat or fish heavy with potato.
I haven’t been surprised to see a lot of root vegetables in traditional dishes because neither country had the ability to grow much more in winter.
I heard Bistro Sinne focused on local, so much so that people joked if something was growing in a backyard it was likely to supply the restaurant.
Chef Peter is young and has worked in a few Michelin star restaurants but everyone was talking about this new restaurant in Porvoo.
Given the seasonality of it I asked if I could meet with him for a market tour, instead we jumped in a car and drove out to meet his suppliers.
Martin Tillman in Pellinki island was the first on our list and on the islands famous for the Moormins.
He is known throughout the country to have the best smoked salmon and has won nearly every award possible.
Porvoo is only 45 minutes from Helsinki but it seems most people I’ve encountered speak Swedish first and Finnish second. Martin did not speak any English so Peter was kind enough to translate but even without understanding the language I knew he was a character.
Once a sailor, he saw they fished differently in Norway, learned from it and claims he single-handedly changed the way they fish today in Finland.
He had two strokes this past summer and was told to slow down but he continues to process 25 tonnes of fish a year.
I ask him the secret to great salmon hoping for some regional expertise and he coyly says it is time.
However, in between scandalous stories he does invite me to come work with him for the summer and learn Swedish.
I laugh but he mentions it a few more times and I’m starting to think it could be quite the adventure.
Our second stop was Bosgård Manor, which dates back to 1610 but history aside I was more interested in how they raise the organic Charolais beef cattle, especially as Finland doesn’t have corn fields to prematurely fatten the cattle.
I was really happy to have such an honest conversation about farming. The reason they are now selling organic beef is that the European Union decided to start subsidizing organic projects and it made sense financially as they can make more money.
While they sell to Peter at Bistro Sinne, most of the sales are direct to families who typically buy a six month supply of 15kg of beef for 230€.
When they raised the price to begin organic farming they didn’t lose sales as families wanted high quality meat for their families.
When I asked about expansion this small farm said they may grow by 30% but that will be all as they are not looking to become a big commercial supplier.
Oh and the cattle eats clove, oat, fava beans and hay. Yum
The final stop was to Malmgård Manor, which also dates back to the 1600s and is now run by a Count and Countess.
You would think this would be intimidating until I met the Creutzs, while they were working in the storefront.
The Manor has run an organic farm for the last 18 years now primarily producing grains, they’ve been doing it long before yuppies discovered organic food and their enthusiasm for local, organic food is incredible.
I was already familiar with their unfiltered beer as it had been recommended in Helsinki but they offered to let me try them all and I could not turn down that offer.
It was such a great opportunity to sit and talk about how food is grown and the importance of buying clean, unprocessed food.
I left slightly tipsy and wondering if the airline would let me take this green spelt flour on the plane or if I would be searched yet again.
It was a long day but connecting with people about food makes me realize that so many people around the world want to create good food for people, away from food-like substances and processed junk.
And I love that Peter makes the time to use these smaller suppliers so he can produce great food in his kitchen.