Irish chef behind Taste of Helsinki event
By Johanna Tikkanen
When asked what everyone should know about Irish culinary culture, Irish chef Barry MacNamara finds himself at a loss for words. It takes a while before he comes up with anything.
“Well, we do have carrageen moss pudding – a soufflé seasoned with seaweed” it’s a great dish!”
MacNamara has an explanation for his faulty memory; “We’re in a bit of a similar position as Finland. Our cuisine is not famous in the same way as that of Italy or France, but we have high-quality ingredients, and people who care about what they cook and what they eat.”
A traditional home-cooked dish could be sliced boiled ham, boiled potatoes, lightly cooked cabbage, and parsley sauce. Usually there is plenty of cream and butter, MacNamara says.
“I love traditional foods, but alongside those dishes we also have modern living culinary culture, as is the case in Finland as well.”
MacNamara says that the Finns and the Irish also share a love for potatoes – and for modesty about food.
“You can’t imagine how many times I have been told in Finland ‘What? You think you can get good food here?’ You should have more pride.”
To show Finns the merits of their own food culture MacNamara and his wife, architect Mira Kuvaja decided to organise a Taste of Helsinki event. Next week next to the Music Centre there will be an opportunity to sample the offerings of ten Finnish quality restaurants.
MacNamara says that Finnish food is at its most authentic at the summer cottage.
“That is where people are in direct contact with the raw materials. Just think about blueberry pie. I haven’t eaten Irish cultivated blueberries after tasting Finnish wild ones. What aroma!”
It is at the summer cottage that he learned about Finnish smoked fish. “Smoked perch with new potatoes and dill sauce is a dazzling food.”
Fish and seafood are also a part of Irish food culture. After coming to Finland two years ago this Irishman had to learn about new species of fish and new techniques for their preparation, as cod, plaice, and halibut are generally not available.
“And you eat pike here. The Irish never touch it. I don’t know why.”
One of MacNamara’s favourite foods is an oven-baked dish with perch-pike and smoked Arctic char, béchamel sauce, eggs, and mashed potatoes.
MacNamara, who studied economics, does not have a professional culinary background, but he does have a never-ending fascination with food.
“I am one of those who will ask a waiter in a restaurant how this sauce was prepared. And at home I am always the one to cook dinner.”
Now he is looking forward to his summer holiday, when he can cook all day if he likes.
“Good company, food, drink – that’s what life is all about.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 7.6.2012
More on this subject:
Taste of Helsinki festival Thu. – Sun.
Lippupalvelu – Taste of Helsinki (tickets)
Taste of Helsinki
JOHANNA TIKKANEN / Helsingin Sanomat