Chefs with skills

Chefs with skills

Aylin Öney Tan
Chefs with skills It was only the day before his departure that Chef Cem Erol of the MSA learned about the bad news. He was about to leave for Sheffield University to participate in the event “Skills for Chefs,” where he was to prepare a special dinner for 150 chefs and conduct six workshops in a row. The bad news was his kitchen team of four could not get their visas to enter the U.K. Now he would be all alone in the kitchen preparing everything from scratch. There was also a huge load of ingredients from Turkey that he had to carry by himself. After the initial shock, he gathered himself and opened the Culinary Arts Academy of Istanbul’s MSA Facebook page. The solution would come within two hours.

What Chef Erol did was call for help, reaching out to the school’s former graduates, looking for people with a visa to the U.K., or who are already residing in England. A young and forceful team of three was instantly arranged, two of them getting two-day leave from their current jobs, which is a real sacrifice in the restoration business. Bora Korkmaz who further studied in Cordon Bleu in London would voluntarily come from London, Can Toraman would join from Edinburgh and Ebru Çelik, who had a British visa, was going to leave her internship in Mama’s Shelter in Istanbul to travel to Sheffield.  They had never worked together before; only chef Cem was experienced in catering to big numbers of guests and only he knew about the menu; the others had never cooked those dishes. They met each other for the first time in the kitchen and worked frantically to make it happen. I was also involved in the process and arrived in Sheffield only half an hour before the Turkish feast started; had only minutes to get dressed and be prepared to present the food and talk about the menu. There was another problem. The wine provided from Kayra arrived only at the last minute – again because of a delay in the British customs – unfortunately, there was not enough time to properly chill the white wine for starters. Pam Rabone, the consultant for the MSA, was trying to make sure there was enough ice in the buckets to cool the whites. At the last minute, the tables were set beautifully in turquoise colored napkins.

The Turkish team had another fear. There was the Netherlands-Argentina semifinals in the World Cup and they expected everybody to have just a few bites and leave for the bar with the huge screen to watch the game. To their amazement, nobody left and stayed until the very end of the dinner, savoring every bit, and curious about the techniques and ingredients. The next day, they were still asking about the smoked yogurt, the crispy pumpkin desert made by treating the pumpkin slaked lime water, the tahini helva crunch with Turkish coffee and especially about the salep ice cream. Actually, the next day was another story, with myself helping with the presentation, together with Erol and Korkmaz doing the cooking demos, we had to present six one-hour sessions to show all about tarhana soup, varieties, origins etc. and about salep, the wild orchis root, the most amazing ingredient of Turkish cookery yet to be discovered by the culinary world. The chefs kept coming in curious to find about that white powder…

The first ever-Turkish participation in the 17th Annual Skills for Chefs Conference was successfully completed. Chef Erol proved that he had the most important skill a chef has to have: To remain cool, calm and collected under extreme stress and adverse conditions!

Bite of the week

Recipe of the Week: Ramadan is the soup season regardless of the season it falls in. It is traditional to have a soup for iftar. Tarhana soup might be more of a winter soup for us, but this version won the hearts of the Spanish chefs in the Skills for Chefs event in Sheffield. Sauté a finely chopped onion in 1-tablespoon butter, deglaze with a dash of sherry or good vinegar, add 1-tablespoon tomato paste and 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses. Stir until slightly caramelized. Add 3 lt chicken stock. When it comes to a boil, add 200 g. tarhana (preferably from Kastamonu) and blend in with a whisker. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with a drizzle of melted butter with wild oregano and chili powder.

Fork of the Week: The variety of tarhana in Turkey is amazing. I’m especially fond of flaky Maraş tarhana, and one thing we found at the conference was that they fry wonderfully. Try Maraş tarhana crisps deep fried in olive oil, they’ll go wonderfully with beer while watching football.

Cork of the Week: The Turkish dinner prepared by Chef Erol was paired with three wines from Turkey. The Terra Narince 2012 was with a mineral focus and linear acidity, revealing aromas of pear, quince, chamomile and grapefruit.  Hot starters, the grilled veal tongue and meat bread “cantık” was matched with Terra Kalecik Karası with lively red fruit and plum aromas. The hit of the night was the amazing Elbasan Tava, a slow-cooked lamb shank with yogurt topping, matched with an equally amazing Öküzgözü-Boğazkere Buzbağ Reserve 2010. The blend of two indigenous grapes from Elazığ and Diyarbakır stole the show. No bottle went unfinished!