Executive chef Jarkko Nieminen at Kulosaaren Casino carries the restaurant’s Christmas buffet tradition into the future with new options and strong traditions.
For many Helsinkians, a holiday lunch or dinner in Kulosaaren Casino’s spacious seaside dining room is an annual tradition. Each December, the 94-year-old restaurant features a traditional, plentiful Christmas buffet that includes staples like ham, beetroot salad and a varied selection of fish.
As the restaurant’s executive chef, Jarkko Nieminen is responsible for ensuring that the buffet both retains its culinary sophistication and continues to please those with more conservative taste buds. While trends in dining change, Kulosaaren Casino is also synonymous with tradition.
“I have enormous respect for the history and customs of this place,” Nieminen says. “I love classic food and strong, distinct flavours, but I also try my best to merge them with today’s eating habits and styles. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback on the buffet over the years, so I’ve aimed to continue with that same style but add new things here and there.”
Nieminen says he incorporates modern touches into his buffet selections by seasoning traditional dishes like pâtés in new ways and creating new varieties of sauce and gravy. And during a time when more and more consumers are focusing on sustainability or opting for a vegetarian diet, he is happy to modify his menu accordingly.
“This year I’ve narrowed our fish selection a bit and brought more vegetables into the menu,” he says. “We’re going to feature a beet terrine, for example, that will provide more options for a vegetarian customer.”
“Relatively few of our usual customers are vegetarians, but vegetarian food is still part of today’s food culture and will continue to be so in the future. Today’s restaurants simply have to offer vegetarian options.”
Nieminen possesses a fondness for tradition – at his family’s Christmas table, he is the guardian of his grandfather’s top-secret Baltic herring recipe. However, he also encourages Finns to add more kick to the traditionally subdued flavours of their Christmas food.
“Finns like the taste of salt and grease, and don’t often use spices that could bring more depth to the flavours; we could easily experiment more with spices,” he says. “Middle Eastern spices like cardamom and nutmeg that we already associate with Christmas could be used in larger quantities, and exotic fruits like mangos and melons are also an excellent fit for the Christmas table.”
Nieminen’s creative vegetarian options
Bring the cream and milk, along with a pinch of cloves, to a boil. Add the artichokes and boil until cooked. Puree into an even mixture and add the cheese and agar powder. Season with salt and black pepper. Pour the puree into dishes and place them in a cold place to set.
Mix all the ingredients together and spread them out in a casserole pan so that the beets gather plenty of flavour. Bake the beets in 200 degrees until cooked.
Blue cheese mousse
Heat the cream in a pot and add the cheese. Let this cheese-and cream mixture cool overnight. Whip the crème fraîche into a froth and blend it with the cream and cheese mixture. To garnish, sprinkle with blue cheese and chives.
Yellow foot mushroom risotto
Glaze the shallots in olive oil. Add the mushrooms, blackroot and rice. Let heat for about three minutes. Add vegetable broth gradually and boil until the rice is cooked. Add lemon juice, parmesan and mascarpone. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh herbs.
By Laura Palotie