An Evening of Dining in Helsinki, in New York
During the week of September 12 to 19, taking a trip to Scandinavia was as easy as stepping into a restaurant in New York. Well, almost as easy.
The second annual NORTH Nordic Food Festival , featuring over 25 participating chefs, returned to the city with pop-up dinners, cooking classes, and panel discussions, all — of course — with a focus on Nordic food culture. Arranged by online culinary magazine Honest Cooking, the festival was well-received, with several sold-out events and interesting new additions to the schedule, such as a Nordic hot dog competition and street food festival.
While several chefs were new to the festival, some of the talent form last year made reappearance, with new and exciting culinary events, including Sasu Laukkonen, chef and partner of recently Michelin-starred restaurant Chef & Sommelier in Helsinki, Finland.
In addition to showing eager New Yorkers how to prepare “Finnish Grandma Cooking” at one of the festival’s cooking classes, Laukkonen was also in charge of showcasing refined Finnish cooking, true to the style of what he serves at his restaurant back in Helsinki, during a sold-out dinner. The pop-up event, “An Evening in Helsinki,” presented by Visit Finland, was — like the other NORTH pop-up dinners — held at The Old Bowery Station in lower Manhattan, and consisted of a five-course vegetable-heavy menu.
September is traditionally the start of “harvest season” in Finland, as Laukkonen clearly expresses in his menu filled with earthy ingredients, true to the local flavors of Finland. Think venison tartare stuffed in rings of hay-pickled onions with leek ash; simple yet flavorful mushrooms and root vegetables; cod and horseradish with a potato and fennel side (which, tasted like a refined version of a dish my own Finnish grandma makes); and a rich and surprising cheese dish of Danish Krondill with crumbles of traditional rye bread.
The highlight of the night may still have been the dessert, consisting of cinnamon roasted carrots, sea buckthorn, local apples, and a lemon verbena. The carrots, which, as Laukkonen revealed, were simply rolled in cinnamon and baked in the oven at 400 degrees F, had an almost licorice-like flavor that was both unexpected and perfectly fitting for the Finnish theme.
“Right now, the mushroom and root vegetable dish is the only one truly similar to something I have on our menu back in Helsinki,” Laukkonen said when asked if the menu was simply a modification of something he serves at Chef & Sommelier, or designed specifically for the festival. “But maybe some elements and ideas of what I made for the festival could be perfected and translated to our menu,” he added. While the dishes may have been different from his Helsinki restaurant, the concept and preparation methods stayed true to Laukkonen’s style: focusing on simple, organic, and local ingredients, elevated for a refined and modern setting.