The health obsession, which started in the sunny California, did not escape the snowy lands of Finland. More and more Finns are jumping on the wagon filled with freshly squeezed juice, early yoga classes and avocados on toast. In Europe’s coldest city like Helsinki, maintaining this lifestyle feels like a true challenge. However, Veera Kulmalahti, a raw food chef, yoga teacher and founder of raw food catering service WERAW manages to do it effortlessly.
HÄN meets with Veera at 9 am, naturally, at an organic cafe and yoga place Hima Happiness where Veera also works as a manager on the side. Dressed in long black yoga leggings, Nike trainers and loose knitted top, 30 years old Veera immediately put us at ease with her relaxed attitude and her passion for a healthy lifestyle. It was, therefore, surprising to find out that, before setting up her company, a large part of her career had nothing to do with clean eating. “I worked for eight years in finance business”, remembers Veera. “And I felt that it’s not what I want to do the whole time but I didn’t know what to do. So I said yeah, I’ll just stay there for one year and all of a sudden, eight years went on, I was still there”. The breaking moment occurred when Veera took a two months long trip to Bali, where she got the first taste of raw food. “I felt so energetic and happy and I wanted to learn more”, says Veera.
She went on to get her certification to be a raw food chef at Living Light Culinary Institute in California. Fast forward to a year later, she created her own business WE RAW in Helsinki, providing raw food for businesses and straight to consumers and to cafes. Veera’s previous experience in finance, her Hospitality education at the Lahti University of Applied Science, where she is from originally, and working in restaurants during her studies all proved useful when setting up her own catering business a year ago. And even though her path was tricky, now she cannot be happier. “I feel that now I found what I want to do and who I am and I wake up every day and I feel that now I found my life purpose”, says Veera.
Raw food is not the easiest of culinary disciplines to master, yet Veera did not find it to be the case. “It’s different, but I didn’t find it very difficult because I always cooked and I’ve been interested in making food so it was just very interesting”. Veera believes in importance to pass on her knowledge during her own culinary courses, which are comprehensive even for a beginner. “I teach easy recipes”, says Veera. “I don’t want to be that kind of chef that just make beautiful portions and nobody knows what’s in there and how to make them yourself. I want to teach people to eat healthier and feel better because of that”.
Veera’s own ‘Day in Food’ is pretty straightforward: big smoothie for breakfast, raw salad for lunch and warm dinner in the evening (to battle those comfort food cravings in winter), which she shares with her husband, who works in consulting. Being a vegetarian, Veera puts emphasis on being creative to always keep your meals interesting. She cleverly adapts Finnish recipes to suit her raw food philosophy (and kindly shared one with HAN!) by using Finnish ingredients available to her. “The summer is so short so everything grows here for a short time but when they do, I always use fresh berries from the forest”, explains Veera. She plans to develop more the concept of ‘wild food’ in the future, as it is a huge topic of interest in Finland where everyone has a right to go to the forest and pick berries and mushrooms without any authorities permission needed.
Veera believes that eating clean in Finland is much easier than it seems. “Luckily, we have really good stores here”, says Veera. “There is this one big supermarket, K-citymarket Ruoholahti, I go to and they have a lot of options, they have organic food, very much what I always want to buy. There are also smaller markets near where I live, they also have a lot of organic food. And I order nuts and that kind of things from the Internet because we don’t have our own organic nuts here”. And if she fancies a meal out, she likes to try new small vegetarian restaurants and cafés like Cargo. But one of her all-time favourite restaurants is Farang. “It’s an Asian relaxed fine dining restaurant. They also have a vegan menu there, it’s really really good”, shares Veera.
Veera’s interests do not end with raw food. Yoga plays a very important role in her life. In the same way as with her career, Veera was always searching for her ‘one’ sport until she tried yoga. A bad knee injury prevented her from attending further classes for one and a half years, but Veera did not give up. When she showed the signs of recovering, starting practising yoga again only sped up the process. She got so into it, that last year she graduated to become a yoga teacher. This is hardly surprising, considering the growing popularity of yoga in Finland’s bigger cities like Helsinki as well as Tampere and Turku. However, in the rest of Finland, the situation is quite different. “That’s because there’s one million people living in Helsinki area, people who are career oriented and want to educate themselves mentally and physically”, says Veera. “In Northern Finland and in smaller cities people are quite old-fashioned. But I see the trend is growing. I think women are more interested than men but men too more and more”.
As if that wasn’t enough, Veera also sings in a band ‘Hello, Britney!’ they set up with her friends and gives regular performances at different gigs in Helsinki. Veera shows no sign of slowing down: she plans on starting her own healthy living blog as well as writing her own recipe book in the near future. She believes that doing what she loves fuels her energy every day. “I’ve always been a very shy person”, says Veera. “And now when I found this thing that I want to do it’s like I’m getting braver all the time”. If that is not inspiring enough to put aside a chocolate bar, we do not know what is.
Words by Kira Kolosova.