As I entered the warmly lit restaurant, I noticed that everything was made out of wood. The wooden tables, walls and floor created a cozy atmosphere as a smiling receptionist showed me to a table.

I sat down with one of the owners of Local Bistro, Marko Turunen, who shared his experience as a chef in Finland.

Local Bistro, a restaurant in Joensuu in eastern Finland, has been open for three years and is mostly visited by an older crowd, of which an important percentage are women. Marko, a man with a shaved head and kind, light-colored eyes, explained that his aim for the restaurant is to serve “North Carelian food mixed with a new style. But also, street food and easy to eat food, like hamburgers.” All the dishes are lactose-free and customers can call in advance and make specific requests about their dietary needs.

Taditional North Carelian meals include slow-cooked meals, as well as the use of local products found in the woods like berries and mushrooms.

So, what exactly does North Carelian food look like? According to Marko, traditional meals include slow-cooked meals, as well as the use of local products found in the woods like berries and mushrooms. “We have changed the menu nine times since the restaurant opened,” he said, “that way it is not boring for the chefs and they can create something new every day.”

“We try to bring head chefs so that people can enjoy their food here without having to travel. It also makes our own chefs and waiters excited and motivated to learn about new things.”

Marko Turunen

Owner, Local Bistro

The calling

Some people, like Marko, have a clear idea of what they want to do with their lives since an early age. “I knew I wanted to be a chef since I was 12 years old. I studied at a culinary school in Helsinki, worked for big hotels there and finally moved to Joensuu in 2005,” he explained. There is no doubt that he enjoys what he does and that cooking, especially fish dishes, is his passion.

Marko and his partners have two other restaurants in Joensuu: Breakfast & Lunch in Hotel GreenStar and staff canteen Ravintola Mitteli in Pohjois-Karjalan Kirjapaino Oy building. “We are looking to have more Local Bistros, maybe in bigger cities with universities,” Marko told us.

For now, his enthusiasm can be seen in the extra effort he puts in: famous chefs from around the country are occasionally invited to the restaurant to cook their dishes and share them with the consumers. “We try to bring head chefs so that people can enjoy their food here without having to travel. It also makes our own chefs and waiters excited and motivated to learn about new things,” he said.

Perhaps what I found most fascinating was his last anecdote. As I finished my cup of tea he pointed at the wooden walls and explained that everything was made by a local carpenter. That same carpenter had just had a cocktail party and he was invited to serve some food—following the wood thematic.

The carpenter’s love for wood was, of course, extended even to the food. The chef made wood pannacotta and even ice-cream! “I just put wood in cream and then let it boil,” he said cheerfully.

From koivu, a common type of tree in Finland, he also made a dish of leaves that had been deep fried. As it turns out, the carpenter was very impressed.  Somehow Marko managed to experiment with products that are not only free but also local. “He wanted wood, so we made food from wood for him,” Marko said smiling.

Apparently, in the Finnish food industry, nothing is impossible.

Find out more: https://www.localbistro.fi/

Pictures: Local Bistro