Desperately seeking G-point
Here the “G” letter stands for gastronomy. It springs up as the magical word everybody resorts to, calling for the much-expected climax of tourism Turkey desires. After the pandemic, tourism in Turkey is trying to get back on track. Turkish resorts seem to be well off in hygiene standards and are taking serious precautions, all measures are seriously monitored in resort hotels. At least that was my observation on my recent visit to Antalya on the occasion of the recent FSUMMIT – Differentiation in Hospitality. Organized by Gökmen Sözen, the foremost organizer of big international gastronomic events, the aim of the summit was to bring together all actors of the hospitality sector together, with a focus on food and gastronomy. The event included panelists from all fields of the sector, ranging from top chefs of the fine dining scene, to the unsung heroes of big hotels, the F&B directors, chefs operating several venues and events in a single hotel, operating 24 hours seven days nonstop. Tourism investors and hotel owners and managers with their PR managers were also there, all discussing how Turkish cuisine can be promoted and elevated on various levels. The range of attendees were impressive, from the smallest boutique hotels and chef’s restaurants to the biggest properties and five-star hotels. The common point of all discussions was gastronomy, every single speaker bringing another angle to put Turkey as a top gastronomy destination on the map. Needless to say, Antalya establishments were in majority, not only because the venue of the summit was there, but Antalya and its environs host the majority of tourism in Turkey.
My observation is that there is nothing new said in the discussions, all were discussed in the tourism forum organized by the Tourism Ministry a couple of years ago, but unfortunately no serious action has been taken ever since by the government. It seems that now the hospitality sector is eager to take action themselves and move forward to promote Turkish gastronomy. Thanks to Sözen Organization, all the leading people in the sector had a chance to meet and interact face-to-face after an era of endless Zoom meetings. After the pandemic, tourism is ready to take off, not only in costal resorts, but also in Istanbul, with all properties properly equipped and their staff trained, meeting the global safety precautions. The food service in restaurants and hotels are also adapted to the pandemic precautions. These precautions no longer seem to be the issue, discussions go beyond that, the focus was how to make Turkish cuisine a desirable destination factor to attract food lovers around the globe, just to taste a certain dish or dine in a certain restaurant.
The panels were organized to discuss various aspects of the topic, and mine was the academic angle, moderating the panel on the importance of education in gastronomy tourism. Interestingly, there are three universities in Antalya giving education in the field. Our panel consisted of Prof. Dr. Bike Kocaoğlu from Bilim University, Prof. Dr. Beykan Çizel from Akdeniz University and Associate Prof. Aylin Aktaş Alan from AKEV University, the head of the Gastronomy and Culinary Arts Department. These three universities bear the heavy weight of giving education in in the tourism capital of Turkey, with all its graduates hoping to find top positions in the venues but usually ending up starting from the bottom to work their place upwards. Our mutual verdict in the panel was to seek more and more ways of bringing together academia and the hospitality sector, and to create projects that will be beneficial for both parties. I think much depends on how Antalya will succeed in making itself more gastronomy-centric, making it the hot destination not only for a see-sun-sand-entertainment vacation but for food as well. The city already has the well-established classic 7 Mehmet restaurant, a place worth flying in just for a lunch or dinner, plus an array of small local places worth visiting, a cornucopia of exquisite ingredients, and an amazing variety of options in hotels. At our first night at the Nirvana Cosmopolitan, we were served truly authentic Antalya dishes executed perfectly. I’m sure many others will follow, turning Antalya to a gastronomy point nailed on the map of global food lovers.
Fork of the Week:
The iconic 7 Mehmet restaurant in Antalya is the “G” Gastronomy spot of Antalya, definitely a place to return several times over and over again. Actually, quite a few top chefs from the conference escaped there repeatedly, dining for three consecutive days, still wishing for more. One instantly notices that the place is a favorite of locals, always packed with big tables apparently celebrating a special day, or a family dinner, or a reunion, or simply a get together with friends. Mehmet Akdağ is the third generation who took over the management of the restaurant established in 1937, also serving as the head chef. Their success lies in using the very best ingredients only when in season, and offering a wide range of classical dishes from Turkish cuisine including regional specialties, now with a fresh chef’s touch from Akdağ’s young spirit. One taste not to miss these days is the slow-cooked kid tandır piled on a buttery rice pilaf studded with bergamot peel pieces and slivers of pineapple. The goat meat meatballs were unforgettable, fried okra dangerously addictive, and the vine leaf braised in olive oil topped with pumpkin seeds is out of this world. Among the desserts, most come with a thick slab of buffalo clotted cream, such as the baked pumpkin and the syrup drenched bread pudding, but my all-time favorite remains the smoky ice cream with its intriguing, unusual flavor. The secret lies in the boiling and reducing technique of the milk, which is scalded in copper cauldrons, when poured to the hot pot the milk instantly catches the bottom, and then infuses the milk with a burnt aroma, a complex combination of burnt casein, protein and lactose milk sugar. This again, topped with buffalo cream is a taste unmatched.
Cork of the Week:
One might think that Antalya is too south and a warm climate to make a decent wine to put on the table. That is true, but one must remember that there are the mountains. High altitude vineyards up in Korkuteli and Elmalı plateau give the most exciting results, receiving snowfall in winter, day and night temperature differences and the ideal untainted soils of the mighty Taurus Mountains. More excitingly, the hidden corners of the mountain range reveal long-forgotten indigenous grape varieties, giving the wine enthusiasts new thrilling tastes every season, such as the deep blackish grape Acıkara, or the delightfully violet-y Fersun grape.