Sasu Laukkonen is trying to revolutionize a food culture that has long emphasized sour rye bread, root vegetables, and gruel.
On a mid-morning flight from New York to Helsinki, I was fortunate to be seated next to Mikko Laukkanen, who studies Finns for a living as a researcher in the department of marketing at Aalto University School of Economics. He told me that his countrymen, though smart and hardworking, could learn a thing or two from Americans on how to market themselves. For one thing, he said, Finns don't talk much, as illustrated by a story about a pair of brothers who leave Helsinki for their family country house for a long weekend. They spend their days fishing and their nights drinking without uttering a word. On their third night they take a sauna, and one brother finally breaks the silence. "Pekka," he says, "my wife left me." His brother turns to him with sad eyes. "Leo," he replies, "Are we here to fish or are we here to talk?"
But when I arrived, I found that Helsinki was far from silent, the boulevards swarming with hockey fans (the world championships were in play), skateboarding teenagers, sharply dressed hipsters, and families basking in the long days of sun. I had come to learn how Finland's remarkable educational system could be linked to its entrepreneurial zeal. I spoke with economists, business people, educators, and union representatives, but nowhere was the quiet drive toward innovation more apparent than in what boosters here call the "Finnish food revolution."