Juha Leinonen and Kristian Karnell are in a merry mood. The men are trying on Chaîne des Rôtisseurs chains to look more distinguished in the photograph, although they well know that this stuffy, formal look is no longer trendy for professional chefs.
“A credible chef should roll up their sleeves and show off their tattoos,” Karnell jokes about the look.
Karnell is a kitchen manager and Leinonen a development director at Sunborn Events. Karnell and Leinonen are so seasoned in the business that they do not need any chains or tattoos to boost their self-esteem.
Leinonen has held several positions at Sunborn in the past 20 years, but his career took off in the kitchen.
“For nearly two decades, I worked as a chef abroad, for example in the United States and the Middle East. At the turn of the millennium, I returned to work in Finland – first, at the renovated Hotel Kämp and then at Naantali Spa Hotel,” Leinonen talks about his background modestly as if working for the UN forces, five-star hotels and luxury cruise liners is something every chef does.
Educational years abroad
Karnell has gained heaps of experience from his work abroad as well. The term “demanding customer” quickly took on a new meaning when working outside Finland.
“I began working as a cook when I was 15. My first job was at the legendary restaurant Kynsilaukka. After that, I travelled all around Finland and the world. The decade spent abroad taught me valuable and real lessons about local flavours and different cuisines,” Karnell explains.
Karnell’s knowledge about different customs and cultures has helped keep many international visitors and royals happy. Karnell also became familiar with serving distinguished guests at the Savonlinna Opera Festival.
“For four summers, I managed the kitchen of Olavinlinna during the Opera Festival, so I am used to working in a historical castle,” Karnell smiles in the Southern Hall of Turku Castle.
Conference and party venues complement each other
Leinonen and Karnell are reminiscing about their careers in Turku Castle because Sunborn Events took over the Castle’s restaurant and catering services in early 2021. The company belongs to the family-owned Sunborn Group and manages restaurant and catering services in several impressive conference and party venues.
In addition to Turku Castle, Sunborn Events’ venue portfolio includes Kulttuuritalo in Helsinki, Naantali Spa Hotel, Naantalin Kaivohuone and restaurant Snickari as well as Ruissalo Spa and Honkapirtti, restaurant Pinella and event venue Logomo in Turku.
“It is very helpful that each of our venues is so unique,” Leinonen says.
“For example, Logomo is a modern event centre whose facilities and equipment adapt to almost anything. After a hybrid conference held in Logomo, the host can take their guests to a completely different environment – in the nature of Ruissalo or to a renaissance fair in Turku Castle.”
The company acquisition and name change in autumn 2020 say a great deal about the business. When Sunborn Catering became Logomo’s principal owner, the company name was changed to Sunborn Events.
“The new name represents our service range better,” Leinonen explains.
Sunborn Events’ range of services is complemented by Sunborn Live, which produces entertaining concerts and festivals.
“Thanks to our extensive know-how and experience, we can organise a wide variety of events of different scale and style. We can also always turn to our partner network to reinforce our own skill set.”
History inspires visions
Sunborn Events manages the venues of Turku Castle in cooperation with the Museum Centre of Turku. Turku Castle is over 700 years old. The Castle and its courtyard create a unique atmosphere for events. As a kitchen manager, Karnell strengthens the historical feel by serving both historical and modern dishes.
“The atmosphere in Turku Castle makes you want to serve more traditional dishes than in Logomo. My roots are in fine dining, so I am always excited to visit the past of gastronomy,” Karnell remarks.
From the new Castle menu, Karnell highlights Beef Wellington, which is known as one of the finest meat dishes of all time.
“Naturally, we give classic dishes a modern twist. The use of spices is more bold these days than in the past.”
The intriguing environment inspires the men to innovate new products, services and events without forgetting the history of the location. Leinonen thinks that Turku Castle would be a perfect place for a small bakery, since the Castle used to have a bakehouse.
“We are collaborating with a microbrewery to create the Castle its own beer product. This feels very natural, because the Castle used to have a brewery. I am not dreaming of a distillery yet, although the Castle has also been used for distilling spirits,” Leinonen chuckles.
Good ideas and immediate execution
Planning and organising big meetings and events with the experts from Sunborn Events is a delight. Kitchen manager Karnell dares to reveal that they hardly ever have to reject a customer’s ideas.
“We are happy to hear customers’ ideas and offer our own solutions, which may not have occurred to them. We are certainly very ambitious.”
In the events industry, Sunborn Events is known as a company that responds creatively and quickly to changing trends. According to Leinonen, flexible work culture has played a key role in the company’s success.
“We have been given free rein to innovate and execute. For example, the alternative music festival Kesärauha was a very spontaneous production and it was a hit. In a more rigid organisation, the idea would have been on the table longer,” he reckons.
“We do first and ask later. Usually, that works,” Karnell smiles.
Last summer, the Kesärauha festival had to be cancelled, but a series of terrace concerts was quickly organised at Logomo. The company has plans to revive the hit concept in the future.
“We have already received enquiries about Logomo’s safe summer events from various companies. They want to know how many tickets they can get to the concerts. Naturally, events could also be organised privately by combining outdoor activities, dining and music,” Leinonen says.
Trusted partner at big events
Sunborn Events is a reliable partner to other event organisers. The company has provided catering to many events, such as Tall Ship Races and the Paavo Nurmi Games.
“We are also co-organising the popular Aurajoen Yöjuoksu night run. The event takes place in June. For the first time ever, the run starts and ends at the gates of Turku Castle. We can provide snacks and entertainment in the Castle yard,” Leinonen says.
The courtyard has been the centre of many colourful events in the past, but these days events organised on the cultural-historical site require careful planning.
“Events must be tailored to meet the customer’s requirements and adapted to the location in good taste,” the Sunborn Events veterans point out.
They have earned the freedom to be creative with experience and good taste.
Text: Merja Kallikari
Photos: Mika Okko