China on the table, no plastic, organic food made using local ingredients, and plenty of vegetables. The congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB) at Logomo in Turku would put the kitchen into an entirely new kind of a test.

Kitchen manager Kristian Karnell of Sunborn Catering listed the customer’s strict catering requests and got excited.
‘I love a challenge! I did lots of background work on planning the menus, and I believe the result was quite good,’ Karnell notes.

His words are too modest, as the catering for the ESEB2019 congress was excellent. The guests who came to Turku praised the taste and quality of the food.

‘One woman said that she had participated in numerous congresses over the span of 30 years, and that she felt what was served at Logomo was by far the best she had gotten,’ Karnell says.

Over a period of six days, the Logomo kitchen prepared approximately 25,000 servings of food. In addition to science, the 1,300 evolutionary biologists from 50 countries enjoyed the clean Finnish flavours and locally sourced food with vegetarian emphasis. A vegan alternative was provided for every meal.

‘Regardless of the large number of eaters, we were able to carry out some beautiful ideas. For example, we used fresh wild herbs picked by a local wild herb expert from the Turku region every day.’

According to Karnell, the food for the congress was cooked with a big heart: instead of opening prepared packages, as much was made at the kitchen as possible.

‘The food was largely made manually, which is a significant part of the philosophy of our kitchen. The Karelian pastries served were handmade by Karelians, not bought as semi-finished frozen products. This was a wow factor particularly to Finnish guests.’

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Kristian Karnell

The menus were environmentally friendly

Nature was a significant and natural theme of the catering for the ESEB2019 congress. When a fish dish was planned, species which are available from local waters but often frowned upon were selected.

‘We thought of an environmentally friendly alternative for every dish. We wanted to serve fish, but the kind which is often left unutilised. The most common fish dishes are made of salmon, whitefish, and pikeperch, but this time we used bream, roach, and pike for a locally produced, tasty coarse fishcake,’ Karnell explains.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Logomo kitchen was presented by the customer’s requirement of not using plastic at the congress, which was fulfilled in every detail. Water was not served in plastic bottles, and disposable dishes were not used.

‘A good example is that we served snack bars made using clean Finnish ingredients, but as they are often packed in aluminium wrappers, we had 1,800 bars brought to us directly from the bakery.’

Karnell is proud of his staff which was able to provide the massive catering for the congress on evolutionary biology. Karnell, who has toured several continents during his career, has a strong fine dining background, but when he returned to Finland he realised there is room for playfulness and creativity even in buffet meals.

‘The ease of fulfilling customers’ requirements must be caused by my understanding of so many different food cultures. In Finland, I have been particularly excited about Finnish and local ingredients. A chef will not go far without them,’ Karnell says.

After the successful ESEB2019 experience, he wants to encourage other event organisers to favour principles of sustainable development, even if they challenge the operators to deviate from their routines. In the end, both the environment and the customer will be happy.

‘Be brave and throw yourselves into it,’ he prompts.

Text: Merja Kallikari
Photos: Mika Okko