We sat down with chef Teresa Välimäki and entrepreneur Sami Helle from Pertti’s Choice to discuss the relationship between art and gastronomy and how to promote inclusivity. Teresa Välimäki and Sami Helle are behind the menu for the True Equality Brunch, organised at Café Maa in collaboration with Alvi Association, Pertti’s Choice and Institut finlandais.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourselves and what got you interested in cooking and entrepreneurship?
Sami: I’m a trained pantry chef and my interest in cooking started from a very young age. I like to cook because it makes people feel good and it’s nice to socialise over food. I simply love cooking.
Teresa: My interest towards food started from childhood as well. My mother was an enthusiastic cook and made a lot of food at home. I think that enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I’ve always loved to eat at restaurants. I was also interested in communications but finally I ended up studying at a school of culinary arts. Later on in life these two passions of mine have sort of come together as I have been able to work in media as well.
What are you most looking forward to about the True Equality Brunch at Institut finlandais?
Sami: What I’m really looking forward to is going to a city where I have lived for four years. Paris is a city that I love and where I have a lot of lovely memories from. French cuisine is also very close to my heart.
Teresa: Now you get to make new memories in one of your favourite cities!
Teresa: That’s what I’m going for. I think this is just great, it’s amazing to go there in the first place. Our team is amazing and I have loved doing these projects and being able to work with different people. I really want to see the premises of Institut finlandais, I’ve heard good things about it. Additionally, like Sami already mentioned, food brings people together and it is always nice to talk over food. That’s what I’m looking forward to at this brunch. I hope people leave the brunch in a good mood and with nice memories. I also think this brunch will evoke conversations about Finnish and French culinary cultures, their differences and possible similarities.
What inspired you to join the Pertti’s Choice project, and what drew you to the concept of outsider art?
Sami: Well, this is something very important to me as I am one of the owners of Pertti’s Choice.
Teresa: It has been wonderful to work with different people and different teams. In working with Pertti’s Choice, there is always a positive energy in everything we do. A sense of doing, acceptance and sense of belonging. Right, Sami?
Sami: Yes, a sense of belonging for sure. We do a lot of things together and always have fun while working. I have had a really good time especially with Teresa in the kitchen. It’s a place where I can show my skills.
How do you see the relationship between art and food, and how do you think the two can be used to promote inclusivity?
Sami: I see food as art. They share a lot of similarities: the colours, the contrasts, and so on. I think food can be thought of as art.
Teresa: Yes, cooking is creative in the same way as art. You need to think about flavour and texture combinations, for example. At best, art and food spark conversation, and what could be better than discussing art over food? Furthermore, art, cooking, and eating belong to all. Everyone can do those things and get excited about them and develop their skills. We can promote inclusivity with these kinds of projects by showing others that you can work with any team and anyone when you listen and accept one another. One needs to be able to adapt to different situations and maybe take a little more time to do things, but everything is possible.
What has been the best thing about working with the True Equality team?
Sami: I think the best thing has been that the core of the group has stayed the same. Also, it has been really important to me that I’ve been able to ask Teresa for help in the kitchen, when I don’t know how to do something. This has been one of the best teams I’ve worked with in a long time.
Teresa: Familiarity is probably the most important. We are very like-minded people and we have discussed and planned a lot together. We always laugh during meetings and have fun. Everything doesn’t need to be so serious. We have never had a fight, have we?
Teresa: When going to work in a different environment and a new kitchen where you don’t know where everything is, it makes it easier that we know each other very well. We’ll look for the pans and utensils together at the institute!
What role do chefs and restaurants play in promoting inclusivity and diversity in the food industry, and how can they do so more effectively?
Sami: I think people like me who have training should be given the chance to work in places they are qualified for. Not being able to get a job can be a really tough thing for a young person to go through. It is a waste of money for our society when people are trained but then they are not able to do the work that corresponds to their education. We would be a huge resource for restaurants with lots of potential, if they would just employ us.
Teresa: I completely agree with Sami on this. Employers should be more open minded and discuss with the future employee about their strengths and wishes regarding the job. It seems that orientation and training periods are a challenge in every company. When new people start to work they are just expected to know everything. That is obviously not how it is supposed to be, for anyone. You have to have the time and resources to teach and train new employees. If those resources would be utilised, I’m sure the rewards would be much greater for the restaurants. Everyone wants a job that corresponds to their education. Having something meaningful to do, colleagues, and a work community are important to all of us.
Sami: To add to that, people should at least be given the opportunity to try something. If it turns out that they are not fit for the job, later on they won’t feel sorry about not having been given a chance.
What are your professional aspirations or dreams, and how will you continue to promote inclusivity in your work?
Sami: My wish is that people like me would be able to work and make a living when they graduate school, that they would be a part of this society. Everyone’s work is important and needed.
Teresa: I hope to be able to work with these kinds of projects in the future. They have been so rewarding and immensely fun, I’ve learned so much. Developing food and restaurant culture in Finland is something that I hold dear to my heart.
Sami: I hope that I can work with Teresa for many years to come.
Teresa: Maybe we will stay in Paris and start a restaurant together?
Sami: Well… Unfortunately I will have to come back to Finland as my life is here.
Teresa: Perhaps someday. When I was a little girl, I said to my mom that one day I will live in Paris. Maybe that day will come.
Sami: I also want to live in Paris again, it was such an amazing place.
Interview: Helmi Anttila