The best school food in Finland is cooked in Kotka

The final of Finland’s third annual nationwide school food competition culminated today at the Gastro Fair in Helsinki, with Ruonala School from Kotka, Kymijoki Foodservice, taking home the grand prize.

Organised every other year by Continental Foods Finland, the competition celebrates chefs from schools across the country, with a jury of pupils, food experts, politicians and celebrities scoring the meals. The competition aims to highlight the talent of school chefs, celebrate Finland’s free-of-charge school meals system (established by law in 1948), and reinforce the importance of school meals in providing students with healthy and nutritious food.

This year, teams from Helsinki, Kotka, Oulu, Tampere, and Vääksy faced each other in the final round of the competition, each demonstrating to pupils how delicious school food can be. The teams of three chefs each had to prepare a soup, one vegetarian meal and one meat, fish or poultry meal, as well as a festive dessert designed to mark Finland’s upcoming 100th anniversary celebrations. The final five teams were chosen from among the semi-finalists, by a jury composed of students from class 6C of Tapanila School, who tasted over 40 school meals.

Kotka’s team included chefs Jaana Huuhka, Susanna Olkkonen and Lenni Marttila. Their winning menu featured smoked salmon soup, colorful vegetable gratin and meatballs with pasta, with a green mandarin salad to serve, and blueberry pastry with custard sauce for dessert. 

Lasse Lehtinen, chairman of the jury for the third year running, expressed his astonishment at the high-quality food prepared on a minimal budget: “This competition underlines the fact that Finland is one of only two countries worldwide serving warm school meals free of charge daily, as well celebrating the quality of school chefs. In this respect, it has been a success.”

Meanwhile Mia Kettunen, from Continental Foods Finland, noted that “This year’s final recipes showcased a variety of Finnish and local tastes. They are ideal for school kitchens, not only because of the ingredients they include, but also the way they are prepared. There truly was something from everyone in this final batch of recipes.”

WWF also rewarded the Koivisto school team from Tampere as having the most environmentally-friendly menu, in the spirit of the Earth Hour climate awareness event. This was judged on the potential environmental impact of the meal.

“We want to encourage people to eat less red meat and more vegetables. The key element in Tampere’s winning meal was the main ingredient of their main course – salmon – which is on WWF’s “green list” for fish”, noted Liisa Rohweder, secretary-general of WWF.

The competition also showcased a dizzying array of new uniforms, jackets and aprons for kitchen professionals, designed by 3rd year fashion design students from Häme University of Applied Sciences. The uniforms were designed with ease-of-use and comfort in mind, and featured classic Finnish ingredients such as berries, bread, perch, and chanterelles in the design.