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Hungry like the wolf

An inventive grill company in Finland takes live-fire cooking to lakes and forests and even shares BBQ food with the local wildlife. RUPERT BATES puts on his snow boots

 Rupert Bates   Winter 2022

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A sheet metal and surface treatment facility in Finland, close to the Russian border, seems an unlikely location to begin a BBQ story.

FinEq is a company in eastern Finland with an industrial powder-coating plant, as well as sheet metal work, manufacturing tailor-made components such as ventilation ducts for a variety of businesses and products.

But also in its production line are outdoor and indoor cooking equipment and fireplaces. Welcome to Carelia Grill in the Finnish region of North Karelia, land of rugged cliffs, vast lakes and coniferous forests where bears and wolves roam – of which more later.

Talk to Carelia CEO Ville Hämäläinen about outdoor cooking and you will never complain about the cold again. When it snows, you get the barbecue out, or at the very least head for a fire feed in your Kota grill hut.

The grill brand was launched in 2016, fuelled by Hämäläinen’s love of cooking and knowing that the company’s metal work credentials would give the grill business a head start.


“I’ve been fascinated by food and fire from the age of five. Watching my grandparents and my parents cooking and trying my own,” says Hämäläinen. 

“I love to cook on the fire and the tastes the flames create. There is nothing better than gathering around the grill, making and eating great food with family and friends.”

Wood, primarily birch, is his go-to fuel ingredient, with wood naturally in plentiful supply amid the dense forests of his homeland.

Gas and charcoal are also used in Finland, but Hämäläinen believes that Covid restrictions saw cooks, amateur and professional, reset, taking time with low and slow meats, quality time both culinary and social.

Carelia’s versatile grills are where asado meets the fireplace, whether you want to cook inside or out, with Carelia also able to manufacture chimneys.

 

 

In eastern Finland winter temperatures can drop to -30°C, but Hämäläinen is from the BBQ 365 school of outdoor cooking, with grills for all seasons. 

“For Finns, it is entirely natural to gather and eat round the fire, whatever the weather. There is something magical about cooking in the snow.”

Carelia has a range of open fireplaces, fire pits and wood-fired grills, as well as accessories such as blazing boards (perfect for Hämäläinen’s favourite food, plank salmon), tables, pans, hooks, chimney pipes and floor protection plates and spark guards for indoor installations in a BBQ cabin (Kota).

“You can blaze salmon, grill meat and vegetables, brew coffee and cook soup, all at the same time such is the versatility of our products,” says Hämäläinen.


When it comes to blazed salmon, Hämäläinen, having seasoned the fillets, puts the boards in water half an hour before cooking to prevent the fish skin sticking or the board darkening too much.

“Place the fillet on the blazing board, skin side down and tail side up. Bend the blazing board’s steel frame, insert it into the board and press tightly against the fish. Then, lift the board onto its rack at the edge of the fire bowl.”

 Blazing time is one to two hours on a medium fire, depending on the size of the fish. The fire should not be too large as the fish may dry during cooking. 

“The size of the fire is suitable when you can hold your hand between the fire and the blazing board for 10 seconds. Towards the end of blazing, brush the fillets with melted butter to create a beautiful, crispy surface and serve as is, or with side dishes like potatoes and fresh salad.”

Hämäläinen says Carelia’s products represent “the finest Finnish steel craftsmanship in both appearance and durability”. 

Sustainability is a key Carelia tenet too, including planting trees for every grill sold. “Locally produced wood is the most environmentally friendly barbecue fuel because it has a low, even negative carbon footprint. Clean-burning wood minimises emissions and is naturally renewable, recyclable and absorbs high levels of carbon dioxide as it grows,” says Hamalainen.

“Our mission statement is: Enjoy the lifestyle - the company of friends, the surrounding nature, the warming ambiance of an open fire, good food, shared stories and memories created together.”

He talks of the Karelian spirit, inspired by the nature and culture of the region and always respectful of local traditions and communal values.


“Karelians have always gathered to celebrate together with songs and food by the fire.”

And now they want to share their fire stories, taking the brand further across Europe, with the UK very much on their radar, looking to partner with British dealers and distributors.

The Finns appear to share their food with the local wildlife too, with Hämäläinen feeding a hungry wolf as it emerges from the forest, lured by the scent of smoke and meat. 


Carelia’s logo is a wolf and on informing him my football team is Wolverhampton Wanderers he replies: “Every Wolves fan must have a Carelia grill!” 

The company also produces its own beer and its customers around the world are known as the Wolfpack.

It is not all about cooking on snow-capped cliffs in freezing temperatures. 

In the summer months there is a migration of Finns from the cities to their cottages and cabins in the lakes and forests just 60 miles from the border with Russia.

“Many of the cottages in the countryside don’t have kitchens, so the cooking is done on wood-fired grills. You can place the grills inside the Kota huts and we make chimney sets for the roofs.”

In my dreams I am now heading north to Lapland. With luck, as long as the wolves identify me as a football fan not lunch, I might make it for Christmas.



 


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