Sightseeing With the Locals: Jonna – Saturday Memories of a chef

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You’d be forgiven for not (immediately) associating Helsinki with a thriving food culture. You’d be somewhat wrong, but then again, if you don’t believe that every place has some valuable food to be discovered and think the only places worth sampling are the ones profiled in foodie cities, chances are you won’t find much of anything interesting or new anywhere. Food is becoming more and more popular over here, and we’re not just talking a Nepalese restaurant on every corner of the city within a three-block radius. There’s something for every palate, and Helsinki has its fair share of internationally trained chefs, as eager to open up restaurants as they are to appear on TV. They don’t shy away from fusion foods either.

Every city is as filled with memories as it is with people leaving their mark on the present. Sometimes tied to one place, sometimes to several. Anchored against ever-present changes, Kauppatori, the Market Square, is a prime example. Idly browsing, shopping, sampling, or just hanging out, it’s all possible there. People come and go, some merely once, others on a somewhat more regimented schedule. Hosting stalls and the oldest market hall in the city, surrounded by key political buildings, it’s the perfect place to sample and browse before heading back home or heading off on the ferry, either to Suomenlinna or the surrounding islands, or just a boat trip around the capital.

Locals love the Market Square as much as tourists do, among them Jonna, in her own words, “an ambitious chef.” Currently working at Hodari & Hummeri, which elevates everyone’s favorite hot dog to fine dining minus the pretense, she is now merely a stone’s throw away from her favorite childhood place. Born and raised in the Helsinki area, she is quick to state that, “the city means a lot to me.” While Suomenlinna, merely a hop and a skip from the mainland by ferry, ranks high on her list of favorite places in the city, it’s a toss-up between the old market hall at Kauppatori, and Hakaniemen Halli.

“Helsinki is a seaport, so most people associate it with fresh fish and sea food with some Finnish summer potatoes and fresh salad,” Jonna explains. “While that is really nice, for me Helsinki equals freshly fried meat pie and coffee outside in the sun.”

All of which harks back to memories of childhood. As Jonna recalls, “when I was a kid, I used to go to the Market Square with my parents every Saturday in the summer. We would shop for fresh produce and fish and get some lauantaimakkara from the Market Hall. Afterwards, we would always stop for meat pies at a very popular coffee shop on the square. I think it was called Anja Snellman’s. They closed a while ago. but I still remember them having the best meat pies in Finland. No one even comes close. That’s one of my favorite childhood memories.”
The road to being a chef was not immediately evident. As Jonna puts it, “it took me multiple years of self-searching to find what I want to do with my life. I’ve been cooking since I was very young and e.g. fed many scout camps in my time, but never thought I could actually make money doing it. It seemed too good to be true: getting paid while doing something fun. After I got into Perho, The culinary school, I didn’t doubt anymore, I’d found what I love.”

And the dream doesn’t stop here. Five years from now, Jonna sees herself “as a working mom of a sweet 5-year-old girl. And hopefully working on some independent projects in terms of food.”

Asked by her predecessor in this series what her special power would be if she were a super hero, Jonna replies with, “creating food out of thin air, and feeding all the hungry.”

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