Last weekend was a really interesting experience. Four times a year there is an event called Ravintolapäivä, or Restaurant Day, which is an opportunity for anyone to open a pop up restaurant to showcase your mad cooking skills, to give the locals a taste of your culture through authentic cuisine, or just because you’ve always had a fantasy of quitting your day job and opening a cafe.
At one point a few friends and I were having a girls’ baking night just for fun, and ended up making some French macarons so successfully that we thought they must be shared with the world! We made another few batches of different flavours for a thesis defence reception, and the reviews were great. We realized that our macarons were tastier and more creative than any we had seen in town, and got thinking about Ravintolapäivä and our cafe fantasies.
We eventually settled on a menu of seven flavours of macarons (to be made the day before, obviously), authentic French buckwheat crepes, and homemade American-style breakfast sandwiches, and of course some freshly brewed coffee and tea. We’d open around brunch time, to catch the Saturday early afternoon hangover crowd. We called it Macaron Fusion, a sort of French-American brunch with baked goods to take away. I got some cellophane paper and made little tags with the restaurant name and the Ravintolapäivä logo and tied the macarons up in pretty packages with raffia. The natural colors of the flavours that we used were beautiful showing through the cellophane; the earl grey and black sesame flavours ended up beautiful grey speckled cookies, like fine granite, the earl grey a little lighter and slightly blue-green. The lemon macarons were their usual soft yellow, and the green tea cookies held the rich jade of the matcha. Chocolate and marshmallow looked like miniature whoopie pies, fluffy and playful, and the spicy pumpkin pie flavour were a warm golden taupe with specks of cinnamon and nutmeg. They were slightly different sizes, not perfectly round or smooth on top, obviously handmade. And they were charming and delicious.
We spent all day Friday baking the macarons, and by all day I mean about 9 hours. We were so excited when the first batch came out looking great, puffed up and smooth, and with feet! That is, after all, the sign of an authentic macaron.
While we baked, cooled, and filled the cookies with all manner of ganache, fruit curds and jellies, marshmallow fluff and buttercreams, the men of the house had another task. They took what appeared to be an entire side of pork and ground it up by hand in an old fashioned hand-crank meat grinder. Then it was seasoned according to an authentic Appalachian recipe and put aside.
On Saturday morning, we took stock of how the macaroons had settled overnight. They had mostly held up well, except for the poppyseed and cherry flavour. The poppyseed cookies hadn’t risen as well as the others, and so the cherry jam had soaked through them overnight. The rest were lovely and ready to sell! There were homemade biscuits to be made (with real Crisco sent from the U.S.!), pork sausage patties to be formed and fried up, and crepe batter to be tested. By our official opening at 11am we had our first customers.
The guys had also rigged up a very clever system at the window. Since we didn’t have a tent or a big table or a way to keep food warm outside, we put a small table with thermoses of coffee and tea, and our menu, outside below the window. The guys traded off manning the order station. They’d total the order and put the money and the ticket in a wicker basket that was hanging on a rope out the window. Next to the basket was hanging a rope that attached to a bell. The customer would ring the bell and one of us would pull up the basket, take the order and give change for the money, and two of us in the kitchen would wrap up some macarons, put together a breakfast sandwich, or fill and fold up some crepes to be sent back down in the basket. It was stressful at first, but I think we soon got into a rhythm, delegating tasks and stepping in to help each other out. We all had some friends stop by to chat at different times too, and we fed them and plied them with coffee and broken macarons as they sat around the kitchen table watching us work and joking around during the lulls between customers. It reminded me of holiday dinners a bit, the crazy preparations and cooking on a schedule, and then after it was all over, feeling exhausted but exhilarated, sitting around talking about everything and nothing, and a smidge of halfhearted cleaning.
We ended up actually making a small profit, after totalling out the expenses. I’ll be the first to admit I was surprised; I was dubious that anyone would even come at all, let alone that we would sell out of crepes and three flavours of macarons, with only a few stragglers left over, hardly enough to even go around with one for each of us. There were plenty of breakfast sandwich leftovers, but that was intentional, and I was overjoyed to be able to take a few home with me.
There is truly nothing even remotely close to a classic sausage egg and cheese biscuit here. There are eggs, and we got the melty cheese, but the sausage here is typically cooked already and comes in casings. There are no southern style fluffy biscuits in Europe, and most definitely not in Finland. The closest you can get would be a scone, and you’d still have to go to the UK or France for that. So that was the reason the pork was hand ground and seasoned, and the biscuits were homemade. And they were a huge hit, too. I think if the Finns could get over the very Americanness of them, the sense of breakfast decadence, they’d be the perfect midwinter breakfast staple. I know that’s what I’m going to be eating when there’s only a few hours of daylight and the temperature drops far below freezing. It’s a little bit of my homeland, my childhood.
I think that’s what people want, after all. I think that’s why our restaurant was so successful. Because we cooked with love. Whether it was posh French meringues with gourmet flavour combinations, hand piped and filled and piped with care, or a simple and wonderfully honest American staple from the heart of Appalachia, we gave people food made with love and passion. I think that’s what Ravintolapäivä is about overall. It’s about community, coming together to share a piece of your life, your culture with each other in the most intimate and pure setting–by sharing the food you’re passionate about. Because after everything else, people just want to connect and feel like they belong. I know I do, and Ravintolapäivä was another step along the way.