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When the restaurants closed, you decided to do something for charity. Could you tell more about it?

In spring 2021, the restaurants were closed in Finland for six weeks due to the pandemic. However, we were not discouraged and wanted to keep the gears moving. The first three weeks of the lockdown were used on cooking for charity. For the following three weeks, we converted hotel rooms into private restaurants and served a special menu for the guests.

The charity effort involved serving top-level cuisine to those who don’t usually get to enjoy it. We distributed 2 070 dishes and 10 000 masks through various aid organizations. We were able to rally up a number of companies and other restaurants as well. It was a pleasure to see that we Finns have a lot of heart and are willing to help. In difficult times, cooperation and solidarity prevail. We offered culinary experiences and joy to those who have been dealing with a crisis for much longer than we have.


Key facts?


– Finnish chef, entrepreneur, television host and food influencer

– Owns several restaurants in Helsinki region, including Muru, Pastis, Sue Ellen, Finnjävel, Fiasco by Ultima and Villa Lillan.

– Enthusiastic about experimental cooking, science and revolutionising food production.

– During the pandemic, Henri has been a trailblazer in improving customer safety in restaurants.



Chef Henri Alén

Helsinki, Finland

Restaurant Ultima,
Eteläranta 16, 00130


You have several restaurants in Helsinki. How would you describe the philosophy behind Finnjävel and Fiasco by Ultima?

Finnjävel is an ode to Finnish cooking. The restaurant takes you on a journey through Finnish cuisine and its history. We use a wide selection of Finnish produce and favour small producers. We serve traditional Finnish dishes that have been re-imagined for today with modern methods.

We originally set up Ultima as an experimental restaurant. We wanted to explore how we can elevate our cooking without harming the environment. We are looking for ways to grow fresh produce year-round at the restaurant. Finland is the perfect location for this, thanks to our expertise in food and environmental technology. During the pandemic, we transformed Ultima into an Italian restaurant that still holds true to the original philosophy. We want to cook responsibly. Sustainability is also part of our drinks menu, among other things, and we focus on alcohol-free drinks as well.

Last year, you let researchers take over your restaurant. What did you learn from the study? What other measures have your restaurants taken to ensure Covid safety?

I wanted to find out if the virus is spreading in restaurants and how we can make restaurants as safe as possible for our customers.

So, we let a team of researchers use Ultima for these purposes. The study included researchers from the Finnish Meteorological Institute, HUS, University of Helsinki and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. Our restaurant simulation used a high concentration of a harmless model virus, Phi6, and modelled its spread with supercomputers.

We now know that creating safer spaces is relatively easy. Good air hygiene, i.e. effective ventilation, cleaning and mixing the air, will result in a significant decrease in virus concentrations. We managed to bring down the virus concentration by almost 40% with two small air purifiers.

Since then, we have purchased 15 air cleaners for our restaurants. Naturally, we also take care of hand hygiene and safe distances and limit the number of customers. Scheduling customer arrivals is a great way to keep everyone safe. We have gone through the entire customer journey to understand where the main risks lie and then minimized them.

Why is Finland worth travelling to? What culinary experiences do you recommend for visitors?

Finland is a peculiar Nordic country, in a good way. We are fairly quiet and calm, but also heartfelt, honest and chill.

I recommend trying out authentic and original flavours. We Finns have a strong connection to nature and its seasons, and it shows in our restaurants. We can also pick berries, mushrooms and wild herbs straight from the forest. Try it if you can. With food, I think kalakukko, Karelian pasties, game and fish should be at the top of your list.

In Helsinki, we have a lot of innovative restaurants, bakeries and cafés that offer international flavours and experiences. We aren’t burdened by stuffy traditions, so we can be open-minded and creative with our cooking. I think our prices are very reasonable for what you get, especially compared to the other Nordics.

What does the future hold for you? What gets you excited?

I’m very interested in experimentation and the future of food: how we can use science and facts to help us develop food and its production – to make the planet a better place to live! For example, a Finnish start-up company, Solar Foods, is making food out of air. I very much look forward to trying it.

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