DIY fine dining

DIY fine dining

Every country is announcing their plans on going back to normal, or as it is usually called, to the new normal. Whatever that means often remain obscure. Normally, the summer season was supposed to begin. Countries, regions and cities that are much dependent economically on tourism are desperate to start again. Will that happen, or is it wishful thinking?

Gradual plans to lift the restrictions are on the way in many countries, and also in Turkey, but scientists and doctors prefer to be cautious, at times they openly express their doubts on such attempts fearing that new waves of the pandemic will hit like a tsunami after an earthquake. Even if the flights start taking off, and resorts and restaurants reopen, there will probably be a psychological barrier holding people back from travelling or going out for a while more. People really do miss travelling or dining out and socializing, but it seems that it will take time to be back to carefree jolly good times, and when they do step out from their safe haven, there will always be the long shadow of corona-struck days.

It is a global fact that probably the hospitality sector has been affected by the pandemic, and it is almost certain that the most vulnerable segment proves to be fine dining. It is a niche market serving only to the privileged few. Such unusual conditions only exacerbate the already abnormal situation and reveal the hidden facts. There were already certain issues that were swept under the carpet in the global fine dining scene. Exorbitant rents, ruthless working conditions, long waiting lists, huge sums of money invested in PR efforts to appear on glossy pages, fierce lobbying to get on acclaimed lists and receive high rankings, all those efforts to remain on the agenda were just not feasible and sustainable. The fine dining scene was already going wild Many of the highly acclaimed famed chef restaurants mostly catered to globetrotting high-end clients but not to locals. This is sort of ironical, because they all talked about merits of being locavore and getting their produce from local producers, but they were out of reach for the locals often catering only to the luxury traveler. In Turkey, we have a little number of chef restaurants as such, and, luckily, they were not at that sky-high unreachable status, still they seem to be the most vulnerable.

It is a fact that calamities boost creativity. In these tough times we live in, people are finding new ways to survive and get their businesses going. While many restaurants resort to home delivery and grab and go take out, fine dining has its obvious limits in doing that. In Istanbul, Neolokal restaurant finds a new twist and launches an inventive dinner delivery model. Chef Maksut Aşkar is renowned with his artistic creativity and colorful presentations. Now you can step into his shoes and see how it is like to be a chef and feel the vibe of creativity. His new DIY Neolokal fine dining experience lets you be the chef in charge at your home kitchen. The three-course menu changes every week, each dish comes in pre-packed assembly pieces in the order to be plated, and voila! You have your “mise en place” ready and start assembling your creative plate while watching the how-to-do video on their website. The dishes are exactly the ones that were favorites in the usual Neolokal menu, chosen from the ones that require minimal cooking or brief heating up.

Aşkar says, together with his partner Erim Leblebicioğlu, they resorted to this way to keep their family together. It is not about making money; this is about keeping the kitchen team together, they say, to keep the entire team fully paid and secure in these tough times. But it is also about keeping the spirits and hopes high and creating the stimulus of moving forward. They will have ceramic plates and other tableware available on sale to give a helping hand to the artisans they are working with, and according to the season certain farm produce will be offered on sale to support their producers.

The DIY fine dining kit is delivered to your door with a driver and actual waiter, dressed in outfits as if in in the restaurant and handed to you with gloves. The rest is up to you. Either use tweezers and tongs like a pro chef or dive in with your fingers. You will be serving a professional plate within seconds. If my 24-year old daughter could do it, totally devoid of cooking skills and clueless of assembling a decent plate, you can do it yourself too!

Fork of the Week: The menu of Neolokal this week will have a starter of young fava beans, fresh peas and green asparagus, poached sea bass with a sauce of mussels and onions, and a dessert of chefs favorite childhood memory, frigo frozen cream bars with chocolate ganache, tea jelly and popcorn ice cream. The menu prices change according to the menu, usually at round 175-185 Turkish Liras, about 25 euros per head for a three-course menu, a bargain price for such meticulously prepared mise-en-place. Order from their website

Cork of the Week: Neolokal also offers four varieties of happy hour coolers, either to be enjoyed on the rocks, preferably with a good pour of white spirit of your choice.

Fine dining requires fine wine selection. In these lockdown days we tend to buy more wine, often delivered to our door in 6-pck boxes by our favorite wine cave shops. This encourages wine consumption needless to say, sometimes bottles remain unfinished, or more often we wish not to finish the whole bottle and keep the rest for following days. For this you need proper equipment. I’d strongly suggest AntioOx wine stopper from Pulltex, available in Turkey by Gustobar, a leading provider of all good things related to wine. It interrupts the oxidation remaining in the bottle with the active carbon filter hidden inside the cap. VacuVin wine saver vacuum pump does a similar job extracting the air out of the bottle and comes with handy stoppers that can save several bottles. Other must-have useful items include wine coolers and pulltex two stage bottle openers which will make your DIY dining experience perfectly and smoothly operated.