Mikko Montonen is a former rock’n’roll correspondent, a certified beer judge, and an international writer on beer, wine and fine food. Thanks to Mikko, I had the chance in 2002 to visit his native Finland, as that year’s foreign guest for the Helsinki Beer Festival, which Mikko co-founded. Staged in the cavernous Nokia Cable Factory, it is a world-class event.

During a week-long stay, I sampled the city’s vibrant beer bar culture, visited a traditional sahti brewery at Lammi (but, unlike Michael Jackson, did not disrobe for a mud sauna there), and toured the Sinebrychoff Brewery, home of the classic Koff Porter.

I also discovered what it is to have the proverbial 15 minutes of fame. Finland has a small population, and it seems that most media are viewed by a high proportion of the populace. A couple of national newspapers interviewed me, and I believe I appeared on a TV show akin to “Good Morning, Finland.”

Then, late in my stay with time to kill, I wandered into a city center bar one afternoon. The bartender glanced up, and said “You are the American beer lady and you love Koff Porter,” before pouring me one. So that’s what it’s like to be a celebrity. Thanks, Finland!

Here is Mikko’s interview with an up-and-coming chef and food writer, and her hearty recipe for a pre-game feast. .—JJ

Sara’s Ribs

Sara La Fountain, interviewed by Mikko Montonen

Sara La Fountain is a charming lady with delicate manners. She is also a very pretty Helsinkian of 29 years. And she enjoys her speciality beers.

But this is not all. She is also a qualified cook. Half-Finnish through her mother’s side and half-American through her father, she picked up culinary issues through her grandmother during summer holidays in eastern Finland, where she especially loved the Carelian pies.

So it was no wonder Sara did her studies at the Culinary Institute of New York. And well, as they say, after that the world was her oyster, with her first cookery book picking up an international award, and a television series on the Food Channel.

Sara herself specializes in cakes, and recommends a Russian style pavlova with a kriek. However this time she decided to go more American with a barbeque in my garden in southern Helsinki.

“The Finns are really spoiled. We have the most wonderful raw materials. How many other people in the world know what a wild blackberry tastes like instead of a grown one?” she asks.

“We have what is called the ‘own hands’ right’: you can pick up mushrooms and berries from the forest. The cleanliness and the healthiness of food will grow more and more important year after year.”

Sara was born in the United States and lives in southern Helsinki with her film director husband Antti Jokinen (who, coincidentally, is also more known for his work in the U.S.). Sara lets it all hang out for Finnish food.

“Swedish and Norwegian cooking is known all over the world. The Finnish fusion has got influences from Sweden and Russia. We have got the right raw material. The raw materials in America look great, but they are not real: they have been gene-manipulated.”

In addition to her grandma, Sara’s mother was influential in her daughter’s life. She became accustomed to raw oysters at the age of four.

“My first gastronomic experience was grandma´s korvapuusti (a Finnish pastry). I’ve always wanted to taste new things, and have been open to new food experiences. My philosophy in food is that you must not copy others, but create your own. That is the only way to succeed.”

Sara admits that her mother would never have admitted her to study in the Basque country like a lot of her male contemporaries have done.

“Even though it would have been easier under the Michelin-starred chefs in Spain! And at the same time to learn the coolest tricks of the trade – and get a resumé. After graduation, I wanted culinary insight in my life. I checked out the web. Should I go to France or Germany? My German wasn’t that strong even though I had studied at the Steiner school in Helsinki. Even though it was hard to get into the Culinary Institute of America, I made it.”

Barbeque Pork Ribs

Sara La Fountain

Serves four

Marinade (Dry Rub):

  • 3 pounds pork ribs
  • 1 pint brown sugar
  • 2.5 ml onion powder
  • 2.5 ml cumin
  • 2.5 ml grill powder
  • 2.5 ml red pepper
  • 2.5 ml chili
  • salt

1. Blend the spices and attach to the meat. You’ll get the best result, if you let it season overnight.

2. Cut the pork ribs into five parts, and brown them in the pan so that they feel crispy and look nice. Put the meat in a pot, and pour half of the BBQ sauce (see below) over it.

3. Cover the pot with a lid and put in a 340° F oven for one and a half hours. Turn the meat around, and let it be in the oven for another hour and a half. The meat will be ready when it’s tender. Serve with the rest of the BBQ sauce.


  • 2 ounces butter
  • 7.5 ml HP Sauce
  • 5 ml HP Chili Sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoon tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons pale lager
  • 1.5 tablespoon tomato purée
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 0.5 tablespoon fine sugar
  • 5 ml honey
  • 15 ml demi-glace
  • 10 ml cumin
  • 5 ml onion powder
  • 2.5 ml chili powder
  • 30 ml salt
  • 30 ml Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon coffee

Mix all the ingredients and put in a kettle. Mix for 10 to 15 minutes over a moderate warmth until the sauce is thick.

Tomorrow: More conversation with Sara La Fountain, and her recipe for Baked Beans Flavored with Beer