A Day of Wonder And Delight

PUBLISHED ON May 11, 2018 by hilaryvirtanen >> Finlandia University, USA

A day of wonder and delight at Perho Culinary, Tourism and Business College

One of the benefits of being the Finnish Studies professor at Finlandia University is the fact that we have a number of connections with people and institutions in Finland, which often helps me and my students when we are over here. Today was a case in point when we visited Perho Culinary, Tourism and Business College, a Helsinki-based college with which we have had an exchange relationship for several years. This was a comprehensive visit that lasted from 9:45 in the morning until nearly 8:45 at night and showed us not only their campus locations in the neighborhoods of Töölö and Malmi, but also took us into the applied training students undergo at this institution.

Following a morning at Malmi campus and a classroom visit to faculty member Tiina Varis´s English class, we were treated to an examination of sorts in which three students took us on a guided tour of central Helsinki. Following this, we visited the facilities of the Töölö campus, which is the base of the culinary departments, and ended the evening at the Ravintola Perho, a student-run fine dining restaurant.

It was one of those days I hope for when I plan our annual visits.

A day of wonder and delight at Perho Culinary, Tourism and Business College

Marketing Leni Palminkoski-Pihlamo (left) and rector Juha Ojajärvi (right) of Perho Culinary, Tourism and Business College in Helsinki welcome us to their Malmi campus.

I had previously come to know many of the educators at Perho CTBC last year when nearly 3 dozen made a visit to Finlandia University and I served as their tour guide during a road trip from Chicago to Hancock.

Since that time, I have maintained contact with several of the faculty members, including most notably marketing lecturer Leni Palminkoski-Pihlamo, whose grandfather graduated from Suomi College (now Finlandia University) in 1922. Her story, of an ancestor who went to Finnish America for a time and eventually made it back to Finland, is not terribly uncommon for me to hear, and it creates a lasting bond between Finns on both sides of the Atlantic. Hancock has a special place in her heart and as someone who appreciates this, I enjoy knowing more of her story.

Leni is a bright, energetic, gregarious person, and she made me and my students feel incredibly welcome. The college’s rector, Juha Ojajärvi, and every other faculty member we have met provided us with the best start to our fieldwork that I could imagine.

A day of wonder and delight at Perho Culinary, Tourism and Business College

Tour guides Kristi, Elina, and Janna end our tour at Senate Square.

Often, when we visit organizations and institutions in Finland, particularly educational institutions, the event is framed by formal presentations of the institution (its history, organizational structure, purpose, etc.) followed by tours of the physical facilities and an opportunity to watch the everyday action of the facility. We watch teachers and their students engage in the business of learning together. We also affect this process by our very being there. Our status as visitors and guests provides us often with very conscious looks behind the scenes which requires extra efforts on the part of students and faculty. They have to adjust their normal routines in ways that still make the situation valuable for their important work, and accessible for us as viewers.

The faculty and students of Perho did this perfectly. When we joined them in the classroom, it was a chance for the students to share powerpoint presentations and blogs >> about Finnish tourism interests. It was a chance for us to tell them what we have seen of Finland and to relate our interests to their career plans. We also served as tourists for a tour guide demonstration, in which three students took us into the city centre and showed us some of the sights. While some of these places were well-known to me, the students did reveal some new things I did not know and that I will tuck away in my brain. They have added to my understanding of a place that I want so much to understand.

One project that we could not directly witness but which we were excited to discuss, was the Culinary Caravan on the Move >>, a multiyear international education project funded by Erasmus + connecting Perho students with peers in Latvia, Spain, and Italy. In this project, the students work together both through internet-based cooperation and later through a project in which they run a food truck for a few days together, at an event in one of the students´home countries. In Finland, for instance, they served sausages and sandwiches at a Christmas Market in Helsinki. Later this summer, the students will serve food at a wine festival in Italy.

Such projects give students direct experience in the planning, operating, and management of a dining establishment, in a low-risk environment which will help them to become successful restaurant entrepreneurs. These students work across cultural and linguistic lines and they do so under the mentorship of teachers who allow them to steer the activity but are willing to advise as needed. It, much like the tour guide test we witnessed, prepares these students for careers in their areas of interest.

It was really fascinating to learn about!

A day of wonder and delight at Perho Culinary, Tourism and Business College

I could have eaten these duck liver-rhubarb-seed crisp canapkees all by myself. Hands off, everyone!

We finished the evening with Leni over dinner at the Ravintola Perho >>, where we ate an astoundingly good dinner planned, cooked, served, and set by students themselves. The restaurant, in operation since 1935, is the oldest culinary school restaurant in Finland, and it is magnificent. We entered a room centered in a Nordic aesthetic of clean architectural lines with wood and glass as key features of the structure. The tables were set with bright green napkins and immaculate, high-quality dishware and utensils.

Students expertly helped us navigate the menu, suggesting wine or beer pairings (the restaurant also has its own student-run brewery) and served us with the professionalism one wants when eating at a fine dining establishment. We were surprised by an exquisite appetizer of duck liver and rhubarb jam with mustard seeds on sesame and pumpkin seed crisps.

(PS I could eat about 1000 of those. They rocked!) Our main courses featured expertly cooked ingredients incorporating fresh, seasonal ingredients. The dessert, I could have eaten for days. While there, we saw other Perho faculty members, one of whom had come in to eat on an apparent date night with her husband. When your employees want to have a date in their place of employment, you know you are doing something right.

It was wonderful to connect again with my colleagues at Perho CTBC, and I know that this will help us to continue to evolve the mutually beneficial relationship our institutions have with one another. It will also strengthen the friendships that develop between our faculties over time.

I certainly cannot wait until we next meet.

A day of wonder and delight at Perho Culinary, Tourism and Business College

Leni, minä, ja Sibelius. (Leni, me, and Sibelius).

This visit, which was a marathon 11 hours of engagement, gave us a lot to think about. These students at Perho are young, some only 16 years old. The projects in which they engage are preparing them for a career that may possibly last the rest of their lives, or that may lead to the twists and turns that life takes them on. These experiential learning opportunities seem to empower the students and help them prepare for a future in which Finnish culinary, entrepreneurial, and tourism careers are rapidly changing. I cannot wait to read what my students thought of our day. I cannot wait to eat more of those duck liver and rhubarb jam crisps.

And I definitely cannot wait to see Leni, Juha, Tiina, and everyone else that makes Perho a dynamic, interesting learning institution.

Further information

Leni Palminkoski-Pihlamo, lecturer
leni.palminkoski-pihlamo (at) perho.fi

Hilary-Joy Virtanen, Assistant Professor, Finnish & Nordic Studies
hilary.virtanen (at) finlandia.edu