UK-based Turkish chef returns home to teach in Istanbul
ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Warren is not only a cook but also an admirer of Ottoman cuisine. She is conscious of the fact that it owes much to diversity of cultures that nurtured it through the centuries.
It may sound a little exaggerated when an expatriate says she has become a cook just because she could no longer do without her national dishes, but this is the story behind the longing that brought Özlem Warren back to her homeland to teach a workshop at an Istanbul’s culinary arts institutes.
Warren met a British man and moved to England in 2002. It took her less than a year to recognize the fact that she loved traditional Turkish cuisine too much to live without it.
“That is how I started cooking, and it was not as easy as it may sound, because I could not find most of the fundamental cooking elements abroad, such as biber salçası [red pepper paste],” Warren said.
Warren’s home town is Antakya in the Mediterranean province of Hatay, which is famous for its delicious dishes, delightful mixes of spices and most significantly for its künefe, a traditional dessert with cheese and pastry called “kadayıf.”
Today at 7 p.m., she will be leading a class on Antakya’s specialties, including a walnut, red pepper paste, and olive oil dip that is served on crackers; roasted eggplant salad with yoghurt, garlic and dried mint; tray-baked kebab with potatoes, peppers and tomatoes; and dried apricots with walnuts and vanilla ice cream.
“My cooking became a professional career when we moved to the [United] States in 2003; just a year later, we got married. I started as a volunteer chef and contributed to classes at the Central Market Cooking School in Austin, Texas, which is a culinary arts institute founded by a gourmet supermarket. In 2005 they wanted to hire me as a professional chef; that is how I started to travel, giving workshops at the company’s branches in other cities,” she said.
Warren is very pleased by the foreign interest in Ottoman cuisine, saying her classes have always been fully booked. “Some of the participants have said the classes inspired them to travel to Turkey, which is very flattering for me.”
This success inspired her to organize cultural tours to Turkey, and she brought Americans gourmands to Turkey on tours she organized once a year until she moved back to her husband’s homeland in 2009.
“When I moved back to the U.K., I had become a cook, but picking up the same career in another country took me some time. I decided to start with a blog; blogging was on the rise then. It turned out successfully, and I started to give online cooking classes. Now I also have a Facebook page which is as active as the blog itself. People from all over the world get in touch with through my web contacts to get classes,” said Warren, who gives a workshop every month in Waybridge, Surrey, where she is currently based.
Warren’s Wordpress blog, “Özlem’s Turkish Table,” can be found at ozlemsturkishtable.com.
‘We could better promote our cuisine abroad’
Warren is not only a cook but also an admirer of Ottoman cuisine, and she is conscious of the fact that it owes much to the diversity of cultures that nurtured it through the centuries.
“My experiences prove that there is a noteworthy interest in Ottoman cuisine abroad, and we could better promote it to turn in it into a tourism opportunity with a little support from the Culture and Tourism Ministry,” Warren said.
The rising trend toward healthy eating is an opportunity to spread the word about Ottoman cuisine, which is full of healthy vegetable dishes, she said.
“What I have observed about Anglo-American eating habits is that they love spicy dishes, and they attach great importance to seasonal consistency in their daily diets. They do not want to spend too much time on cooking because of their pressing daily schedules. That is probably why they love our mezes so much,” the chef said.
That is why she reconfigures traditional recipes for practical cooking. “The most important aspect of what I do is substitution. In börek recipes, for example, I replace Turkish yufka with filo pastry. Another important aspect is standardization. Our recipes measure contents by cups and spoonfuls, whereas I convert them to ounces and grams. Our famous ‘earlobe consistency’ hardly works with foreigners,” she said.
Warren measures the success of her classes by their material results, saying, “If the workshop participant can repeat the recipe on her own the following day, that means my mission is accomplished.”
Warren has gained acknowledgement for her eggplant börek recipe through New York-based web portal “Foods of Turkey,” and her great ambition is to write a bilingual cookbook on Ottoman cuisine.