Pure Finnish food
TEXT: NDÉLA FAYE | PHOTO: RONJA HONKO/KOHOKOHDAT
Driven by an unwavering determination to create a better planet for the next generation, Restaurant C serves carefully crafted handmade dishes, made from the purest and freshest Finnish ingredients. From preserving birch leaves to scouring the woods for roots and herbs to generate interesting flavours, innovation and ecology is at the core of C’s ethos.
Christina Suominen and co-owner Ilkka Isotalo launched Restaurant C, located in the heart of Tampere, in 2008. The restaurant opened serving handmade dishes, made from pure, Finnish ingredients. “Then the recession hit. We barely had any money to buy stock for the restaurant, and banks would not give us any credit,” Suominen recalls. “Luckily, however, small, local producers gave us ingredients on credit and we were able to keep afloat. Ever since then, we have forged close relationships with our local suppliers and haven’t looked back.”
Fast-forward ten years, and it is clear Suominen and Isotalo have formed a perfectly harmonious co-ownership, and the restaurant is thriving. Suominen claims that she is the sensible one of the two, keeping their feet on the ground, while Isotalo brings innovation, youth and flair to the table.
Ethical, organic and biodynamic ingredients
As far as possible, Restaurant C serves food made from scratch. “Our foods are carefully crafted, and we value ethically sourced, organic ingredients, with special attention paid to biodynamics,” Suominen says. The biodynamic approach to agriculture was conceived by Rudolf Steiner and considers a farm as a closed loop, made up of various organisms that thrive through biodiversity, with equal importance granted to the health of the soil, plants, animals and humans. “Nothing is brought into the loop from the outside, and, after cultivation, the soil is left in a better state than it was found in,” Suominen explains. “It’s an all-encompassing philosophy, and very important to us when sourcing ingredients. We want to leave the planet in a better state than we found it, for the sake of our children.”
Restaurant owner Christina Suominen.
Storing nature’s bounty
The menu boasts innovative twists on Nordic dishes, but is largely dictated by what is available from nearby suppliers. “Our fish comes from a fisherman at Lake Pyhäjärvi, for example, so the fish of the day will be whatever he has caught that day,” Suominen notes. “In the autumn, we serve game from local hunters, and the vegetables and berries used depends on how good the harvest has been that year.”
99 per cent of Restaurant C’s ingredients come from Finland – with the exception of salt, pepper and coffee. “This means that we cannot use exotic fruits, olives, or spices, unless they are grown in Finland. This requires a lot of determination and innovation, as we have to find out how to replace spices and flavours that would otherwise be readily available. We experiment with a lot of herbs and roots. For example, by drying a specific herb, we can bring flavours not dissimilar to Asian cuisine into our dishes.”
As a result, the restaurant uses a number of preservation methods to store most of its ingredients, including freezing, drying, canning, salting and pickling. “For half the year, there are no fresh local ingredients available, so we have to make the most out of it during the summer and ensure that we preserve enough to last us through the winter and until springtime. In a lot of ways, we are at the mercy of nature, and we can only take what it will give us,” Suominen laughs.
Restaurant owner Ilkka Isotalo picking ingredients in the forest.
Carefully selected drinks
Suominen’s background in wine means that Restaurant C has an extensive wine list. “We serve European wines, in order to minimise our carbon footprint in their importing. It’s also important for us to only serve wines from organic vineyards,” she explains.
Having made a name for herself as a well-respected sommelier, one of Suominen’s specialities is the way in which she pairs wines with food. Surprising combinations create new experiences that challenge deeply rooted beliefs usually associated with wines. “From the very beginning, I threw out all the traditional rules related to wine and food pairings,” she says. “Our diners often tell us that they’ve been positively surprised by the way we combine the two.”
All of the restaurant’s spirits come from Finland, and the drinks menu also features ciders and beers, as well as a number of non-alcoholic drinks from homemade juices.
Although C is classed as a fine-dining restaurant, the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming. “Our handprints are visible in every dish, every ingredient and every drink,” Suominen assures. “Nothing is overlooked, and everything has been chosen for a specific reason. We are incredibly passionate about what we do — and we hope that rubs off on our customers too.”