Cuisine à la Turque
Almost a decade ago we were attending an exclusive small symposium at the François Rabelais University in Tours, France. The theme was on cooking techniques up to contemporary times since the primeval fire. My presentation was on a particular example from inland Turkey, namely Iskilip Dolması or Iskilip Kebab, a dish which I named as a full feast in a single pot, involving an ingenious cooking method that could be compared with the cooking way of contemporary slow-cooker, pressure cooker and vaporizers, all in one. The result was the soup and the meat and the rice pilaf cooked separately in the same cauldron. But that is another story. At the same session, my friend Dr. Özge Samancı had a talk on the 19th century Westernization of Ottoman cookery. Her talk was a short summary of her doctoral research titled “La Cuisine d’Istanbul au 19e siècle.” It was thought provoking as it demonstrated how a great culinary heritage could not stay exempt from the influence of French cuisine that swept kitchens around the globe. In some way, it was also hilarious with certain examples Samancı gave. I remember breaking into giggles when she mentioned dishes like “Kebab du Savoy,” a total hybrid in all senses.
As I have written in this column before, the 19th century witnessed a change in the Ottoman court kitchen. French versus Turkish; that was the gastronomic challenge of the late 19th century in the kitchens of the royal court. Alla Franca (Alafranga) and Alla Turca (À la Turk or Alaturka) are cultural concepts specific to Ottoman territory. The Western lifestyle, chic, new and modern was definitely French-style or in Turkish terms Alafranga. On the contrary, anything oriental and traditional was Alaturka. In a way, the two terms used to define the clash of civilizations between Western and Eastern cultures, and they are very instrumental in understanding the Westernization waves of the last epoch of the Ottoman Empire and the early Republic period. Official banquets for foreign guests especially included dishes with a distinct French influence, or sometimes just carrying a French tag like the Kebab du Savoy, all served as a kind gesture to the guests. However, there was a reverse influence too, for example the Turkish cooking technique of rice appeared as Pilaf à la Turque, as a recipe given in Escoffier’s “Le Guide Culinaire,” the colossal famous book of the most influential French chef who is considered as the source of this French wave in world cuisines. This global French influence is also the reason why cooking schools worldwide have always taught French cuisine in their curriculum, in many countries cooking schools teach their students everything in that Alafranga style.
Now there might be a reverse move since the first appearance of “Pilaf à la Turque” in French table. Le Cordon Bleu (yes, very French indeed)! celebrates its 10th year in Turkey. They have reached a complete international level in the culinary training in Turkey for 10 years as part of the Özyeğin University. It is very important, and in a way also symbolic, that the school decided to give emphasis to Turkish cuisine now, a new challenge ahead raising the bar. Le Cordon Bleu Turkey Director Defne Ertan Tüysüzoğlu states that they want to introduce Turkish cuisine to world gastronomy with the perfection they achieved in their regular courses. She says: “We have been talking about the importance of gastronomy, gastro-economy and gastronomic tourism in different platforms for a long time now. We know that Turkish cuisine bears an important economic added value as well as being an invaluable cultural asset. Countries like France, Italy, Korea and Spain, have made a significant breakthrough in promoting their cuisines in recent years, they have become countries that understand the importance of their culinary heritage, and local products and thus created resources for gastronomic development with government policies. We observe that the techniques and recipes of deep-rooted Turkish cuisine have not yet been standardized with a methodological approach, and this fact causes them to disappear or transferred incorrectly from generation. We Turks sometimes forget that we have a very precious treasure, and take it for granted, then we regret watching our cuisine presented to the world by others incorrectly. For a long time, we had plans to include the Turkish cuisine program in our trainings. Turkish cuisine has a deep culture with its deep-rooted history. We believe that it can be promoted more accurately abroad. For this reason, as Le Cordon Bleu Turkey celebrates our 10th anniversary, we set out to teach Turkish Cuisine Education in a model with an international education discipline, adhering to standards. One of the important conditions for the recognition of Turkish cuisine is a good educational background. We aim to teach Turkish cuisine by using the 126 years of educational experience and training models of Le Cordon Bleu, whose success has been proven in the world, and to train young chefs who will carry Turkish food culture to world cuisines. We believe that together we will open a new page in Turkish gastronomy.
This new page can be the first page of another whole chapter in the history of Turkish cuisine. Let’s hope for the best, as Chef Erich Ruppen, the director instructor of the course says, this new challenge of the school aims at making Turkish cuisine globally known and recognized as one of the great cuisines of the world.
Details of The Turkish Cuisine Program:
The Le Cordon Bleu Istanbul branch will offer a rich content combining classical Turkish cuisine with regional specialties, involving exquisite techniques and recipes that are developed and preserved over the centuries. The course will be given by Le Cordon Bleu Chef Instructors and Guest Chefs, and will also be including scholarly lectures on Turkish culinary heritage, ingredients and produce. The whole programme will be divided to two levels: Level 1 “Certificat de Cuisine Turque” and Level 2 “Certificat de Cuisine Turque Regionale,” including demonstration lessons given in English with Turkish translation, consisting of practice sessions, demonstrations, theory lessons and field trips. “Diplôme de Cuisine Turque” certificate will be given to students who successfully complete both levels, each of six hours a day, two days a week and a total of 120 hours.