Jarmo Kekalainen sits in his posh, orderly office in the suite level of Nationwide Arena, the nerve center of the Blue Jackets front office operation. It’s a mere two and a half weeks before the start of the NHL preseason, and with team president John Davidson on the road, the second-year GM has the most gravitational pull of anyone in the building. His stern Northern European disposition is unwavering as he looks expectantly toward the hallway.
“Josh! Josh!” he yells, then someone else passes by. “CMac! Why don’t you come here too, with Josh.”
“We got an important, a very important task,” he continues as Josh Flynn, director of hockey administration, and Chris MacFarland, assistant GM, enter the room. “You have to taste different mustards.”
Yes, mustards. Kekalainen is a no-nonsense guy – particularly about hockey – but somewhere else near the top of his List of Things to Take Seriously is mustard.
We’re sitting in the Finland native’s office having an informal tasting, prompted by a comment about his love for his homeland’s mustard in an interview with (614) Magazine last year. In front of us are two tubes of Turun Sinappia, traditional Finnish mustard – one mild, one with bite – as well as four glass bottles (Simply Sweet, Jammin’ Jalapeño, Hoppin’ Habañero, and No Joke Jolokia) from Flustard Mustard, a startup by Grove City couple Justin and Molly DuBose. There are paper plates smeared with different shades of brown and yellow, as well as pretzels and rye bread, a staple of Finland’s cuisine.
“I often say that I could have mustard with ice cream,” Kekalainen says.
Though the comment is said in jest, his favorite dish to pair with mustard is nearly as unconventional – cold-smoked salmon. In general, Finns love the slight sweet and slight spice of Sinappia on grilled sausage and meatballs. It’s smooth and creamy, especially on the rye, like a less grainy Dijon. Kekalainen explains that, just like craft beers, Finnish mustard runs the gamut of flavor profiles.
Flustard showcases that trend locally – the Simply Sweet is named accurately, but it’s cut with a tang that keeps it from being cloying, while the other three move progressively up the spice scale, from hot to scorching. Kekalainen reaches for a Pepsi shortly after trying the No Joke Jolokia (made with ghost chili peppers), though the flavor seduces him and he goes back for more a few minutes later. After thorough research, he determines he likes them all, though his favorites are the Simply Sweet and the No Joke. He still loves his Sinappia best for everyday use, and he makes anyone who visits him from Finland – scouts, relatives, everyone – bring extra tubes to restock his supply.
“One of our scouts is coming next week for meetings, and he already called me and said, ‘Should I bring mustard?’ I said, ‘That’s a dumb question.’”
The Blue Jackets begin the preseason with split-squad matches at the Carolina Hurricanes and home versus the St. Louis Blues on September 21. To learn more about Flustard Mustard, visit flustardmustard.com. To try Turun Sinappia, buy a ticket to Finland, or befriend Jarmo.