Consider the Turk

Consider the Turk

Consider the Turk “It seems there will be an exciting Turkish sub-theme at this year’s conference!” wrote Phoebe Knowles of Roger Smith Hotel in New York City. “Incidentally, we have partnered with New York-based Turkish chef, Orhan Yeğen, to provide the food for Friday night’s cocktail reception,” she said. I was corresponding with her to have the Turkish wine group Vinkara sponsor the event for the occasion of “The 2014 Roger Smith Food Tech Conference” and she was right, this year there was a considerable Turkish contribution to the great gathering of food technologists, academics, leaders of advocacy groups, journalists, food writers, and concerned and curious citizens. The RS Food Conference is to be held at the Roger Smith Hotel, April 3-5, 2014.  

The event, which started as a cookbook conference, is now in its fourth year, widening its theme titled “From Flint Knives to Cloned Meat: Our Ambiguous Love, Hate, and Fear of Food Technologies.” Andrew F. Smith, conference co-founder, says he has always been fascinated with “food tech” – how, ever since humankind’s discovery of fire, we’ve been developing new ways to produce, process, store, and serve our meals. There will be a day of six great workshops, followed by two days including 31 panels. I formerly participated in two of the former conferences, both coinciding with blizzards and deep snow. This year, there are three more participants from Turkey, all my close friends, adding up to five talks and panels in total. A great representation indeed! ,

Considering that I was for years the only one from Turkey to participate in such events, I take pride in having more and more participants who dare to take a step and consider giving talks in the international arena. Our topics this year are quite varied. One panel is reserved for Turkey only, another will be solely on baklava, and another presentation will be on olive oil. Our panel chaired by Katherine McIver is titled “From a Cauldron to a Coffee Pot and Dessert: Methods and Apparatus in the Traditional Cooking of Turkey.” We’ll be exploring the evolving technologies of traditional dishes of Turkey, and I will be presenting “İskilip dolması,” slow-cooked lamb with rice steaming in sacs on top, a feast cooked in a single pot, covered with a lid and sealed with flour dough. The cauldron is placed over a wood fire and cooked for at least 12 hours – an ancient technique that inspires modern cooking technologies of slow cookers and pressure cookers. My colleague (she’s also an architect) Nihal Bursa will be talking about Turkish coffee, first popularly drunk in Ottoman Turkey, investigating its history, coffee and the evolution of the long handled lidless copper pot, cezve and how it took its final form. And finally, the Turkish Delight: Turkey’s most famous sweet and its evolution from earlier sweetmeats will conclude the panel with an exciting talk by Priscilla Mary Işın. In a separate panel the next day, Banu Özden from YESAM will give a lecture titled “From the Stone Press to Continue System: The Technology that shaped the Extraction of Olive Oil in Anatolia through the Ages.”

This year’s legendary panel for me will surely be the one with the magical title, “Tales of A Thousand and One Layers.” The panel will give an overview of baklava, the emblematic, shatteringly delicate and sweet pastry of the Balkans, Eastern Mediterranean and Central Asia. Baklava has an ancient history, deriving from humble nomadic flat breads and evolving into a royal sweet. The organization of this panel has a story of its own. It is the brain child of Nick Malgieri, with whom I met the former year. Nick is currently the director of baking programs at the Institute of Culinary Education and his next book will include extensive coverage of thin dough. He insisted on having the panel, bringing Charles Perry all the way from Los Angeles, president and co-founder of the Culinary Historians of Southern California. Perry is much loved in Turkey for his paper “The Taste for Layered Bread among the Nomadic Turks and the Central Asian Origins of Baklava,” and he will cover the history part. Mary Işın will contribute to the panel, telling travelers’ accounts and myself talking about the changing techniques and variations of baklava. Our chair will be the legendary Michael Krondl, food writer and artist, the author of “Sweet Invention,” a history of dessert.

The technique for making the thin layers is painstaking and requires lengthy practice, and there will even be a demonstration of the dough and some short videos. The not-so-well-kept secret is we will be serving tastings of great baklava, flown in from Gaziantep, the world capital of the iconic sweet. Come and join us if you’re in the town, or visit the website You may listen to interviews with some participants on Heritage Radio, or watch streamed videos.

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: All by pure coincidence, Turkish chef Orhan Yeğen of SipSak will be catering for the reception. For the coffee breaks, Nar Gourmet will provide many of their products to taste.

Cork of the Week: Vinkara Wines will be served at the reception, hopefully introducing indigenous grapes of Anatolia to NYC, such as Narince, the delightful and delicate white, and Kalecik Karası, the bright berry-licious red.