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Annika Hotti
Owner of Ripaus Catering & Cafe Victor — Turku, Finland

I grew up in a small town in Western Finland. It was so small that I only had four classmates in primary school! My father got his university degree in Natural Resources and loved spending time in the woods, foraging and orienteering—the latter of which is essentially a sport in which you use a compass and map to quickly navigate from point to point across unfamiliar terrain. 

The first word I learned to say as a baby was puu, which means 'tree' in Finnish.

I would often accompany him and as we walked around in the forest, he would point out different trees and other things that grew from the ground and tell me what they were called. So, my interest in plants began quite early on. In fact, I’ve been told that the first word I learned to say as a baby was puu, which means “tree” in Finnish.

When I went to university, I decided to study product design and did a one-year exchange trip in Barcelona. That trip turned into a two-year adventure in Spain and Iceland. When I got back to Finland, I felt a strong need for peace and silence. I started taking my dog for these long walks in the woods near my home. While the dog was busy exploring its surroundings, it felt natural to me to start picking and eating the edible plants that I’d become familiar with. 

Now, I see the whole forest as a source of ingredients, full of possibilities.

It’s very important to eat only the plants that you know for sure are safe to eat, and books are a great place to learn about which plants are edible. Sometimes I’ll see a new plant and for some reason, I’ll feel like I want to eat it. I’ll go back to the books to try to identify it and see if there’s a way to use it in cooking. Before I started foraging, bushes were just bushes to me. Now, I see the whole forest as a source of ingredients, full of possibilities. I think it would be beneficial for everyone to know more about where their food comes from. Today we have this generation that’s had access to seasonal products all year round, and I think that sort of perpetual access can make food seem a bit meaningless.

Sometimes I really feel like hugging trees but…maybe I’m the one who needs a hug from a tree.

I’m aware that there are numerous health benefits and even medicinal uses for many of the plants I forage, but I’m not really into that stuff. For me, this is the benefit: to spend time in the woods, take some time for myself and get better connected with the food I eat. It’s like cheap therapy. 

I love working in the service industry but it’s also very consuming and can be draining. This is my way of taking care of myself so that I can take care of my customers. I prefer going foraging by myself for this reason. I’m quite careful in choosing my routes and avoiding other people. To me, it’s not a forest if there are other people — it’s more like a park. Sometimes I really feel like hugging trees but when I think about it, maybe I’m the one who needs a hug from a tree. After all, they’ve been standing here for hundreds of years and they’ve seen all kinds of stuff, and here I am stressing out about cafe owner stuff!