On competitions and winning

Photo: Santeri Stenvall

People ask me a lot about chef competitions. What they are for and why should there be more of them.

I’ve been involved with some during my career and some step out more than others due to the great experiences and friends they’ve given me. When we talk about competitions, for me it’s not necessarily about the winning, but more about learning new things, improving your skills and yourself, connecting with other chefs and just having a good time in the process.

When I was younger, I competed at the Finnish Chef of the Year competition, but with no great result or points, since I was still too unexperienced. In hindsight, I got so many learnings from it. Later I spent 5 years in the Finnish national chefs’ team, and I could say that’s one of the best experiences I’ve had during my career. I developed myself so much and got a bunch of new life-long friends. I’ve also got to follow the Bocuse d’Or from short distance and it has been a great adventure.

Competitions are important in our field (and in any creative field), because it gives the industry the awareness and respect it deserves. There are so many talented chefs out there, that should be given the stage to shine with their profession, rather than being hidden anonymously in the kitchen. Fortunately, being hidden is not always the case, but sometimes chefs would deserve more visibility. Of course, winning is also a great thing, and it mostly affects the popularity of the chef and the restaurant he/she works in. So I cannot say, it’s not good for business, as well.

What I’ve heard from chefs, and especially young competing chefs, is that those experiences give self-esteem and team player skills. And I can really relate to this with my own experience. Competitions are also a great boost for employment possibilities. Amazing new talents get discovered at competitions all the time, and it’s great to see new generations grow and get to bring out their own creativity and new ideas. These are the things that bring gastronomy forward and keeps it fresh.

There are a few people, that I’d like to mention when talking about competitions. It’s those friends, colleagues, mentors and apprentices, that I respect most in my field of work. Many of them I’ve got the honor to meet and learn from at various contests.

Ilkka Lääveri, is the guy I would call one of the most loyal and dedicated colleagues I’ve got to work with. If I’d have to clone one person to work with me at all times, it would definitely be him. Eero Vottonen, the previous Bocuse d’Or representative, is one of the most talented chefs in whole of Finland and I’ve had a real pleasure of following his journey in the competition. He is one of those chefs who is not afraid to say his mind and I appreciate a challenging attitude like that. Matti Jämsén has competed in the Bocuse d’Or and is now the president of the Finnish team. He is one of those chefs that is born to be involved with competitions. He is ambitious and a real team player. My first jedi, Tuomas Vierelä, is a great example of a natural talent that somehow incredibly absorbs information from around him and makes it his own. He is one of the most impressive young chefs I’ve ever got to teach and work with and now I’m proud to see him master his thing the way he does.

Thinking to attend a competition, but you’re not completely sure, wether you should do it? I say go for it and I mean it.

P.s. Speaking of! I’ll be judging at Finland’s first Dessert Master competition this year. The application period is open until the end of April and you can apply here.