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Fun cooking classes, learning Finnish cuisine at Helsinki's Eatbest

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I love a good cooking class -- learning new flavors, techniques, cultural ideas. But so many just don't hit the spot . . . they're not hands-on, there are too many people (all strangers), you're not learning above a bachelor-boy just released from Mama's house level.

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But if you're traveling with a group of friends or colleagues to Helsinki, there's a fun and exotic alternative! Eatbest is a company that offers cooking classes ("Cook Togethers") on their site above a famous and historic fishmonger's -- E. Eriksson -- or at a place of your choosing, culinary jaunts and catering. I was very glad to be hosted to experience it!

First, Chef de Cuisine Tomi Laurila took me around an indoor market that's been in operation since 1914: Hakaniemi Market Hall. I saw the kinds of foods that are available to Finns locally as the weather gets colder. Their food prices are about triple those of the East Coast of the U.S.! There were all kinds of fish, reindeer and bear. I learned that moose is generally available only to hunters, because of strict governmental restrictions. If one does see it at a restaurant, it would be very expensive.

Chef Tomi takes pride in using local ingredients, including Finlandia vodka! We started the afternoon cooking and repast with some cranberry vodka. After doing the prep work -- I helped filet the "perch-pike" fish, a common and mild fish in Scandinavia -- Chef Tomi finished things up.

I had an amuse bouche of smoked reindeer, cheeses, honey mustard and barley wrap. These are very north Nordic foods, treated the way we would in the USA!

A fresh salad had baby spinach, butter lettuce, red apples, tomatoes and Valdemar cheese, a mild goat cheese with a bit of tang that won "Best Cheese in Finland," 2006.

Next came the butter-fried pike-perch that I helped prepare, garnished with chives and a pesto sauce. It was accompanied by warm potato salad dressed with dill, chives and cream.

Dessert was based on traditional dish of the Middle Ages: rye bread mixed with vanilla ice cream for a modern texture, surrounded with black currant Melba sauce.

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