Timo Santala


The best thing about Helsinki is a positive quirkiness

"I always tell my international guests that Helsinki is not a place for sightseeing. This is a city for living and experiencing. The best spots in Helsinki are neither visible nor central. You need to find them." 

Among his many hats, Timo Santala is known as a food professional and event organiser. He feels that Helsinki has just the right size. It has avoided the troubles of many big cities such as pollution, congestion and long distances, yet there are many events and cultural activities to be found. 

For Santala, the best thing about Helsinki is its vicinity to nature and its positive quirkiness. 

"Sompasauna crystallises a lot of this idea. It's hard to imagine such a place anywhere else. People who don't know each other meet at a hut built on wasteland to sweat together naked."

Santala was born in Helsinki but grew up in Lappeenranta in Eastern Finland. He returned to the capital at the age of 16 to attend the arts-focused high school in Kallio. 

"If someone in Finland asks me where I'm from, I say Lappeenranta. If I get the same question abroad, I say Helsinki."

For a fresh arrival in the city, Helsinki did not open up easily. Even today, Santala feels that the best spots in the city are not self-evident. For Santala, one of the gems of Helsinki is its archipelago, such as the bay of Kristallilahti on the island of Villinki.     

"Very few have even heard about it, even if it is one of the most beautiful places in the city. I like that there is still plenty to discover in the city even after many years." 

"Community is a huge source of power" 

Santala is the founder of the We Love Helsinki community. He is also an event planner, creative conceptualist, and consultant. Nine years ago, Santala founded the Restaurant Day movement together with his friends Antti Tuomola and Olli Sirén. 

Santala feels it is important that a city has grassroots level events and that new ideas are met with a yes instead of a no. 

"Community is a huge source of power. Helsinki has active citizens and this makes the city a better place for everyone to live. Limitations and refusals leave this power source unused." 

Santala says that he naturally sees the potential of ideas and thinks about the bigger picture. Restaurant Day could have stayed a one-off pop up bicycle bar for friends, but instead it expanded into a worldwide food carnival.

"I thought that if this is something that I want, others will likely also want something similar. Soon there were thousands of pop up restaurants hosted during the Restaurant Day events." 

Timo Santala 
Age: 39
Profession: Food expert, event organiser, concept planner, photographer, journalist, DJ 
Lives in: Kumpula 
What you didn't know about me: I love good food and drinks in almost all forms, from fried burbot liver on a piece of bread to vendace that I smoke myself at Lake Saimaa. I eat every part of both vegetables and animals; the raw heart and liver of a freshly butchered spring lamb in the Ethiopian highlands, as well as lamb brains seasoned with salt and lemon on a side alley in the Istanbul night. I also forage a lot of food from all kinds of plants and berries to mushrooms. Cooking is a way of relaxing and letting go of thoughts for me. There are plenty of good flavours, but Peruvian ceviche, Vietnamese phở soup and port wine often make me sentimental. But there is one thing I don't enjoy so much: beer.

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