Saimaa recommended for European Region of Gastronomy 2024 title

An international jury comprising of four international experts, accompanied by IGCAT’s President, Diane Dodd PhD considered the application of Saimaa region for the title European Region of Gastronomy 2024. After reviewing the bid book submitted on 31 December 2021, the jury visited the region, 19-23 June 2022. The aim of the visit was to assess the region’s appropriateness and readiness to host the title in 2024. The jury will prepare a comprehensive report with recommendations to support the region’s journey.

During the visit, the jury met with leading stakeholder organisations from all three provincial administrations, cities, academic institutions and local entities concerned with the development and protection of Saimaa as a gastronomic region. The jury was pleased to get to know many stakeholders from public, private, third sector and academic institutions and applauded the efforts of all involved from many sectors in the strategies and plans for the region.

General comments

The jury was impressed by how the vision for Saimaa, European Region of Gastronomy 2024 has been inspired and reinforced by a sustainable approach to life that takes into account nature, culture and wellness.

In particularly, the jury recognised many great examples of good practise that other regions could learn from including:

  • Martat on the cultural, educational and social aspects of sustainability. The jury applauded all the volunteers for their efforts and encourage the organisation to carry out additional activities in 2024, especially given their emphasis on home economics which is so vital for today’s society that is decreasing their engagement with cooking and preparation of food.
  • Karelia á la Carte and their longstanding philosophy and principles that connect closely with the food commitment IGCAT encourages in regions and that could be spread over the whole Saimaa region in celebration of 2024;
  • O. Saimaa for being an exceptional initiative that should be applied in all three provinces and noted the advantage of this as an umbrella brand for 2024;
  • The Dream Year of Culture is a wonderful concept that could connect food and culture in main cities based around the lake, as well as invite healthy competition to improve and support inclusivity. For example, the Finland’s Largest School Lunch project which is a beautiful event that hopefully will be repeated annually;
  • ELOT and Saimaa Academy of Gastronomy have an important role to play in attracting young people back to the area as they discover opportunities to create new products and contribute to human capital in the area.

The jury witnessed exceptional creativity in the form of world-class food experiences and welcome a commercialisation of this type of innovation; were impressed by the passion and knowledge of plant and animal varieties and encourage the sharing of this knowledge for future generations and; the jury was moved by Tero Mustonen from Snowchange Co-operative and encourage his message to be spread throughout the World/European Regions of Gastronomy.

On this note, the jury recognised the importance of highlighting young influencers that demonstrate the great quality of life that young people can have in the region for example young fisherwomen such as Noora Huusari and Arttu Muukkonen, Lehmus Roastery.

The Crafts Centre Taitokortteli was also cited as a wonderful example of how local crafts and arts are fully appreciated in society.

The jury noted that all citizens be they chefs, artists, volunteers or entrepreneurs have a shared commitment to Saimaa. However, it will be important going forward that they promote the territory under the umbrella name/brand, Saimaa 2024.

Finally, the jury noted the great role that the hospitality sector is playing in promoting local products and wished to thank everyone that provided incredible hospitality and generosity throughout the visit:

Sari Kaasinen, Project Director, Saimaa European Region of Gastronomy Management Project 2022-2024

Anu-Anette Varho, Project Specialist, Saimaa European Region of Gastronomy Management Project 2022-2024

Ulla Liukkonen, Chef Ambassador

Jyrki Tsutsunen, Chef Ambassador

Anni Korhonen, Chef Ambassador

Antti Rämö (with Jyrki Tsutsunen in Lappeenranta)

Veli-Matti Nousiainen (in Savonlinna)

Petri Rytkönen (Sahanlahti)

Jukka Purmonen (Taitokortteli)

Pyry Nousiainen (Hotel Punkaharju)

Pasi Venäläinen (Utran Uittotupa, Joensuu)

Tatu Rönkkö, Artist

Juha Nalli, Ship Restaurant Manager Prinsessa Armaada

Mirka Rahman, Head of Marketing and Customer Service, City of Lappeenranta

Antti TuomaalaAdvisor, City of Lappeenranta

Satu Sikanen, Regional Mayor, Regional Council of South Karelia

Heli Gynther, Regional Councellor, Regional Council of South Karelia

Katja Vehviläinen, Director, marketing and projects, GoSaimaa Ltd

Kristiina Hietasaari, Senior Director, Travel, Visit Finland

Juha Iso-Aho, Lecturer, Humak University of Applied Sciences

Arttu Muukkonen, CEO of Lehmus Roastery

Ilkka Räsänen, Director of Environment Services, City of Lappeenranta

Pasi Vainikka, Docent of Energy, Lappeenranta University of technology (LUT) CEO, Solar Foods

Mikko Pirinen, Amanuensis (exhibitions), Lappeenranta Art Museum, City of Lappeenranta

Katri Lätt, Chairperson, Black and White Theatre Festival

Sanna Lento-Kemppi, Expert in agriculture and rural business, ProAgria Southern Finland

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland

Merja Olenius, South Savo Regional Council, Director, Regional Development

Jaana Kuivalainen, Sahanlahti Resort, Sahanlahti hostess, entrepreneur (CEO)

Anna Grotenfelt-Paunonen, Entrepreneur and Tea Sommelier, TeaHouse of Wehmais and D.O. Saimaa

Virpi Rantalainen, Entrepreneur, Hauhala Goose Farm

Teija Rautiainen, Research manager, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences – Xamk

Jouni Kaartinen, Entrepreneur, Kaartila Malt pork

Tiina-Riikka Turunen, Cultural Dream Year of Mikkeli 2022, Coordinator

Ville Matvejeff, Artistic Director, Savonlinna Opera Festival

Olli Tuunanen, PR Coordinator, Savonlinna Opera Festival

Captain Janne Leinonen, Vip Cruise Ltd

Pentti Mäkinen, County Governor, South Savo Regional Council

Jaana Komi, CEO, Savonlinna Travel Ltd, Visit Savonlinna

Jenni Mikkonen, Project Manager, Nature Saimaa Project

Anne Paulasuo, The National Museum of Finland, Olavinlinna Castle

Tero Mustonen and Noora Huusari, Snowchange Cooperative

Johanna & David Taylor, Entrepreneurs, Hotel Saima

Saimi Hoyer, Entrepreneur and ex-supermodel, Hotel Punkaharju

Johanna Oras, Fine Artist, Art Manor Johanna Oras Punkaharju

Raija Komppula, Professor, marketing, tourism business

Katja Pasanen, doctoral researcher

Pekka Hirvonen, Mayor, The City of Kitee

Päivi Karhunen, Business Expert

Pirjo and Harri Tervonen, Metsämesi, Organic Honey

Marko Lappalainen, Nordic Meal

Riitta Okkonen, Itärajan Helmi

Airi Turunen, Chairman of the Kesälahti Cultural Association

Jenni Örn Midsummer Herbal Sauna-ceremony

Markus Hirvonen, Region Mayor, Regional Council of North Karelia

Antti Toivanen, Managing Director, North Karelia Chamber of Commerce

Johanna Rinnekari, ProAgria Eastern Finland

Anne Kokkonen, Marketing Coordinator, Visit Karelia

Jarno Turunen, Manager, Public Relations, Regional Council of North Karelia

Anne Mujunen, Projet Manager, Cultural Dream Year of Joensuu 2023

Katja Kolehmainen and Minna Valonen, Joensuu City Centre Association VIRTA

Heli Hjälm, Ringa Nenonen and volunteer Mervi Kurula, North Carelian Marthas

Tuula Kokkonen, Business and Innovation Manager, South Savo Regional Council

Marjaleena Malinen Chairman of Sovintola Associaton

Mari Kaasinen, artist, Set’Akat

Karoliina Kantelinen, artist, Set’Akat


The jury appreciated that the bid:

  • integrates the six different focus areas of IGCAT;
  • presents a long-term lasting legacy for the region;
  • shows a strong commitment from the regional and provincial partners;

The jury agreed that the strong connection between food, nature, culture, and hospitality makes Saimaa’s application exceptional.

Therefore, on the basis of the written application, the presentation and visit to the region, the jury decided that Saimaa region should be recommended for the title European Region of Gastronomy 2024 and pass to the final phase of the application process.

The jury will submit in the coming weeks their recommendations to the region and IGCAT Board will take a final decision based on the region’s response. Subject to the region’s response, the jury expects that IGCAT Board will approve Saimaa’s title in July and the jury very much hope to see preparations unfold for the region’s Award Ceremony in September 2022.

Jury composition

Omar Valdez, Executive Director of UNWTO Academy and a Board member of IGCAT paid special attention during this visit to environment, nature, health and eco-initiatives that can grow with food loving travellers.

Morana Polovič, representative of Slovenia, European Region of Gastronomy 2021 looked at visibility, communication, branding, marketing, legacy and evaluation.

Jaume Gomila, representative of Menorca who are currently European Region of Gastronomy 2022 focussed his attention on culture, citizen engagement and educational initiatives in the region.

Diana Hounslow, representative of Hauts-de-France, European Region of Gastronomy 2023 considered Saimaa’s approach to sustainable and balanced tourism, innovation and job opportunities.

Diane Dodd PhD accompanied the jury to ensure that all financial, governance and legal aspects will ensure a long-term legacy for the region.

About the World/European Region of Gastronomy Award

The International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Arts and Tourism (IGCAT) is the operative institute that oversees the management and coordination of the World /European Region of Gastronomy Award. IGCAT believes that cross-sectoral collaboration will help regions find solutions to current day challenges and thus, the World/European Region of Gastronomy Award is not only given because a region has great gastronomy but because the whole region is working together to create a more sustainable future.

IGCAT encourages not only hospitality industries to participate but everyone across the whole eco-system including public, private, NGO and academic institutions.

The first step in applying for the Award is to bring these different entities together. The next stage is to create a bid book that pulls together as many great initiatives as possible so that people within the region themselves can begin to appreciate how rich their resources are. The third stage is a jury visit that concludes with a recommendation for IGCAT Board and a report to help the region in preparing a successful journey.

Candidate and awarded World/European Regions of Gastronomy, guided by IGCAT, are working together to strengthen food security through the celebration of distinctive food cultures; create employment by stimulating creativity and gastronomic innovation; nourish children and adults through culinary and cultural education; drive environmental sustainability in tourism, hospitality and agricultural sectors; support balance and sustainable tourism practices; highlight and support expertise from within rural and urban communities, creating connections and sharing good practises; and contribute to community health and well-being.