Hi Michael, who are you?

My name is Michael Björklund, and I was born in Åland. I grew up in a family consisting of a mom, a dad, a little sister, and a cat. I grew up in Åland, went to school here, became a chef and stayed in that industry. I moved from Åland to Gothenburg where I worked for 10 years at various restaurants. In addition to being a chef, I am a competitive person and I like different adventures. I have competed in cooking, during my first competition I became Chef of the Year in Finland in 1997, and then I became Chef of the Year in Sweden in 2000. Since then, I have also participated in Bocuse d´Or, world championship in cooking, where I came in fifth place, and I have also been part of the Swedish national team of chefs for two years. As I´m getting older I might have become a little restless, so I have participated in the reality show Survivor in Sweden in 2020 and it went well as I won it. The most recent thing I did was to sail across the Atlantic from Portugal to the Caribbean for a Finnish reality show. 

 

Did you always know that you wanted to be a chef?

No. My parents worked in the industry, so I have always been involved with cooking and helping them when I was little. But actually, I was supposed to be a carpenter. I was going to apply to be a carpenter after the 9th grade, but my grades were not high enough to get into the Royal Carpenter School. But you did not need good grades to get into the Chef program, so I started there and already on the first day I felt that it was what I wanted to do. It's creative, it's artistic, it's something you never get perfect at and one day is never the same as the other. So, I stayed in this industry, but I've also said that when I get tired of it, I might start building furniture instead.

 

Have you always been interested in being on TV?

No, I have not been, but I have always enjoyed competing. When I was younger, I thought it was great fun to do team sports and athletics, and I really liked when I could start competing in cooking. But I have always only competed with myself, although it may sound strange. But I compete to see how much I can handle, how I work, how others are around me, that is what has developed from competing; to challenge oneself. And it's a bit like that with TV, it was also a challenge in the beginning, I was very nervous, and I slowly learned how to do it. When you think something is fun, you just keep doing it. I have been incredibly lucky to be able to be involved in so many different things. It's almost like I can become a professor when I´m 60, If I ever reach that age, because then I've seen and learned so much.

 

This year, Åland celebrates 100 years of autonomy, and here in Budapest we celebrate by arranging the restaurant day Taste Åland. Do you want to tell us a little about the Åland cuisine?

We started living here on Åland thanks to the herring. So back then they did a lot with herring, and then agriculture started. It is a small-scale agriculture that exists on Åland, but still we have been very creative in cultivating. The fact that we are an island has characterized Åland, so the food also consists of fish, shellfish, seabirds and seals. Historically, the Russians have been here and ravaged a bit, which influenced traditional dishes such as the national Åland dish, Åland pancake. The Åland pancake is made from porridge, and the Russians brought the rice with them to Åland. Before the rice came here, we used semolina. You make a porridge and bake an oven-baked pancake out of it and then you serve the pancake with prunes (dried plums) and with cream. Åland pancakes were always served at weddings and when you had guests, you had some porridge left and then you made pancakes of it. At traditional countryside weddings, you get a piece of pancake and a schnapps after church.

We have our own bread called black bread, and it is a two-day bread made from malt. It lasts for a long time and is a fairly compact bread, not many breads are like the Åland black bread. This is the traditional Åland. Restaurant wise Åland has taken a lot of influences from both Sweden and the mainland. Mostly it has been from Sweden, because we are geographically closer to Sweden and because of the language, so we have worked a lot with Swedish classic dishes. Now there are many chefs here on Åland who work with Ålandic ingredients, and I usually describe that Åland has a history in terms of food, but that we have a fairly young cuisine. We have fantastic ingredients and incredibly talented chefs who convey these ingredients.

 

How will you celebrate Åland's 100th anniversary?

I actually celebrate Åland all the time, I usually say that Åland is the absolute best place to live. We are a small island, 30,000 inhabitants, with fantastic healthcare, fantastic school and fantastic elderly care. Everyone knows everyone, so you can keep track of each other. It is a fantastically safe society; I leave the car key inside my car in Mariehamn when I run errands. You can look into parked cars outside a store, and you´ll see that there are many who have left them unlocked with the keys in. For me it is a paradise, and many do not believe me when I tell them this stuff, it sounds too good to be true. Of course, it will probably still change here, but I take the opportunity to brag until I hear that the first car has been stolen.

My big thing is to try to get more people to move to Åland, we have no unemployment, and we need even more people to move here for work. And it really is a paradise for a family with children, you have no distances, you have opportunities, the schools and kindergartens are great, you can have a perfect life on Åland. In today's situation, you can have meetings online, and you can also move around. It takes about 45 minutes by plane to Helsinki and just over 15 minutes to Stockholm.

I am lucky to be part of and celebrate 100 years in lots of different projects. It is mostly with food and teenagers that I work with. There will be a lot of celebrations; there has been such a lack of celebrations for so many years, so it is definitely needed now.

 

What Åland dish would you like everyone around the world to taste?

I would like everyone to taste the black bread, it is a bread that you will not find anywhere else. You can have the opportunity to taste it as it is still manufactured today on Åland. We also have a fantastic fine lamb. The Åland sheep were not bred for meat but for the sake of wool.

 

Do you have a simple recipe of Ålandic food that you´d like to share?

In addition to the fish, we use a lot of minced meat, it can be pork or beef. Then we also have good cheeses, cream cheeses that have a long storage time and lots of flavor. So, what is usually delicious to cook with the family is Cheese Steaks. You take the minced meat and mix in a lot of cheese; you fry them and then you put the steaks in the oven for a short while. You put on some cream and parsley, and then you eat baked potatoes with it. It is a family thing, children, and everyone else likes it.

 

Have you ever visited Hungary?

I've been on a short weekend in Budapest. I had a friend who got married, he was from Finland, but he had his wedding down there. What I like about Hungary is that you can travel around, several places have stood still for many years, so it has become very charming. I hope I have the opportunity to visit now when you get to travel and see a little more than just the capital.

 

Have you had the chance to taste Hungarian food?

Not that much. I have worked with chefs from Hungary and sometimes I have tasted when they have cooked their part of the food. They have a more genuine and longer tradition in their cooking then what we have here on Åland. When they have cooked, I have tasted different fried and boiled eggs, slow-cooked dishes, cabbage, and pork. It's the kind of food I like.

 

What is the strangest dish you have ever cooked?

I have cooked a Komodo dragon. It was for a TV show, and they wanted me to make it. It's a pretty weird thing to do, it tastes perfectly okay but there is not that much meat on them. And then I prepared a mollusk, which I did when I was on Survivor. There were some participants who were very hungry, so they went and fetched anything they could find. That mollusk breathes in a lot of sand when it drinks nutrients. But we started to boil it, and we cooked it for over a day, but it was still hard and rubbery so then we cooked it for another half a day. It didn't get much better, but we thought we had to try it and when we tasted it, it was like chewing gum with sand in it. We could not eat it, it was not possible, even though we had put so much cooking time on it. I do not understand how I didn't give up. 

 

Do you have any fun projects going on right now?

Now we are going to open a new restaurant in Vaasa and the restaurant season will soon start here in Åland. It's a lot of preparation to make, so you´re ready when it opens. I'm working on quite a few different projects, one of them is education. There is a shortage of chefs throughout the Nordic countries, and in the restaurant industry in general, so we must get quite a lot of staff from abroad. There are too few who apply for the studies so I put a little energy into planning how you could make it more attractive to become a chef again. I have always thought it's quite fun to do many different things, you meet a lot of different people, and you also learn from everything you do, not maybe just positive things, but you learn something anyway.

 

Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

That Åland is still here and feel free to come here and visit us, just get in touch with me and I can show you around a bit. It's fun to show what we have!

 

Who?

Name: Michael Björklund

Education: Chef, Åland's hotel and restaurant school

Residing in: Åland, Finström

Hobby: Chopping Forest

Best place on Åland: The archipelago. The best is to travel from the Finnish mainland through the archipelago, so that you visit the small Åland islands such as Brändö, Kumlinge, Föglö ...