A picture is worth 1000 words. Which I think means I now have to write 1000 words, right? This is my favourite picture from the last Ravintolapäivä pop-up restaurant day (I've written about Ravintolapäivä before) As someone commented on Instagram, "I wish I could open 10000 Instagram accounts so I could like this photo that many times."
This is a local Argentine living in Helsinki talking to my friend Lucas's daughter. The woman is dressed as a human empanada, in order to convey that you can get empanadas here. "Here", being their second floor window apartment, using the same basket-pulley-cash-food technique that the egg-and-bacon-muffin lady pioneered for the last Ravintolapäivä.
And this edition of RP was just as good as the others. Although we didn't use Kalle's pop-up coffee shop to conduct research this time, we did use Kalle's pop-up coffee shop. We also enjoyed the empanadas, and much Italian food served off the street near an (oh the irony) closed kioski at Johanneksen kirkon puisto.
As before, the streets of Helsinki were alive in ways they usually aren't, full of people you don't usually see eating food you can't usually get. It's really like a vivid new Helsinki emerging from within the hardened chrysalis of the old.
But you'll also know, if you've read my previous entries, that the only problem with Restaurant Day is the Day After Restaurant Day. It is a tactical intervention, rather than strategic. It relies on pop-ups, which, of course, pop-down again as easily as they pop-up.
So our new project aims to help resolve this. Called Open Kitchen, it's a kind of start-up incubator but for the small food business, and particularly the kind of "everyday food"—street food, small cafes, coffee shops—that materialises on Ravintolapäivä. We want a few of them to stop dematerialising!
Here's a short introductory video:
This is about the small percentage of those Ravintolapäivä pop-ups that would like to really do it for a living; to take those temporary pop-ups and try to make a few stick. Or perhaps you've never done Ravintolapäivä but you've always dreamed of opening an cafe—yet you have no idea how to go about it. You know how to cook, but don't know what permits you need, how to run a team, how to design a space, how to organise the finances, how to deal with customers, how to source local and organic ingredients ... Open Kitchen explains all of this, and reveals the tacit knowledge, from practitioners who have really done it, that will help you through this most challenging aspect of starting a successful food business.
Open Kitchen is staffed by the those in the know. And that means not us! So we're running this in collaboration with Antto Melasniemi—who you can see in the video above, and who has opened several successful and utterly transformative food businesses in the city (Kuurna, Atelje Finne and Putte's), as well as producing the travelling HEL YES! extravaganza, the Solar Kitchen and much more—and Elina Forss, as well as Ville Relander from the City of Helsinki. Antto and Elina are selecting the best of Helsinki's food scene to be teachers and advisors on the course.
It's running at the fantastic new Kellohalli space, part of an amazing reworking of the old abbatoir space in Kalasatama into a food destination. Kalasatama is perhaps Helsinki's most interesting regeneration project, and this new market is at the heart of it.
The structure is simple, running from theory in week one (which is really about concept, logistics, permits, training, running a team, legal issues, funding, sourcing etc.) to practice in week two (the group collaborating on their choice for the design and build of a restaurant space at Kellohalli) to REAL practice in the last week (actually running that restaurant as a real, live restaurant with real customers.)
We don't think there's anything quite like it here. While the fine dining scene in Helsinki has improved to the point of being competitive with most medium-sized European cities, if not better given the New Nordic Cuisine agenda, but almost all of the "everyday food" scene is as poor as any previous populist conception of "Finnish food" would imagine. (Read more about that here.)
Yet Ravintolapäivä suggests there is a much broader scene that could emerge, a much richer, more diverse set of offerings, and that the people of Helsinki have a genuine appetite for this.
Now for a brief note on the back story, for those more interested in the practice than the project itself…