Kitchen solidarity

Kitchen solidarity

Kitchen solidarity

There was no national mobilization declared after the earthquake, but chefs in Türkiye managed to get mobilized to provide at least a bite of food to the earthquake victims. Moreover, this mobilization happened through word of mouth, or more accurately, through communication that spread from screen to screen, through social media. Volunteer chefs got organized via communication channels such as Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp groups and so on.

The most important point is to organize quickly after a disaster and to be able to intervene immediately. Being able to give a bowl of soup to tens of thousands of earthquake victims who have been pulled out from under the rubble, or managed to escape but have no safe homes to return to and are left homeless, who have no shelter to go to, just that single ladle of warm soup in the bitter cold can sometimes be the biggest help. This ladle of warm soup becomes especially heartwarming if it comes from the hands of someone who is there to help voluntarily. That bowl of soup is not only a cure for hunger, it also feeds the soul and makes you feel that much-needed sense of solidarity. The heart of the volunteer is truly great, and a bowl of soup from his/her hand is a balm for the wounds.

We should really be proud of our chefs. After the earthquake, one of the fastest organizations was among the chefs. With the first news of the disaster, communication started immediately. One of the first to take action was Ebru Baybara Demir. Now known as a social gastronomy chef, she is a master of organizing, from recycling waste from marketplaces to her agricultural practices to revive an ancient wheat variety with Syrian refugee women. Actually, she was twice nominated for the Basque Culinary Prize for her efforts in social solidarity projects. Indeed, they got mobilized on the very first day and traveled to the epicenter of the earthquake zone with chef Türev Uludağ, a young chef with a gigantic figure and soft heart. At Türev’s suggestion, they chose a girls’ dormitory as their base, first set up the system with donated food and equipment, organized the dormitory kitchen with the dormitory staff and local volunteer groups, and immediately started cooking. In the first stage, with the help of local chef Veysel, they produced 50,000 meals. Once the system was operational, they handed over the task to other chefs and volunteers and moved on to the next point of need. Within a few days, they were to set up kitchens in many other locations serving up to 150,000 hot meals for those in need.

Solidarity time

Ebru’s eyes were blue from exhaustion and lack of sleep as she completed the first stage, while Türev was obviously exhausted. They set up a soup kitchen, so to speak, on the campus of KSU-Kahramanmaraş Sütçü İmam University. Meanwhile, donations continued to pour in through the Soil to Plate Cooperative. Serkan Aksoy, who made a name for himself by gaining a 1-Michelin star in Istanbul, and his kitchen team came to help as fresh blood. Along with Ebru, many other chefs came to the rescue at different points in solidarity. Ali Ronay, Umut Karakuş and Murat Deniz Temel went to Adıyaman, where they were most needed, and started organizing there. Most of them would organize in one place and then move on to the next. Yunus Emre Akkor would mobilize from his original hometown of Kilis and deliver hot soup to Islahiye, which had been hit the hardest in Gaziantep. While all this was happening, Yaren Çarpar, who received the young chef of the year award, had already boiled the soup pot at the St. George church in İskenderun. Arda Türkmen was quickly coming to the rescue with the supply of equipment. Meanwhile, chef Civan Er of Yeni Lokanta had closed the restaurant and was in Antakya making a call for help. “We are in front of Maxim Park, people are more miserable than you can imagine. Don’t wait for an invitation. Just come. Help!”

One thing is for sure, nobody really waited for an invitation from anybody, everybody had already hit the road to see what they could do. Neolokal’s chef Maksut Aşkar, who has a Green Star and a Michelin star, set out on the road to Antakya in distress and anxiety. His cousins had been rescued, but members of his family were still waiting to be pulled from the rubble. Two-Michelin-starred chef Fatih Tutak personally took the wheel with his team of six and set off from Istanbul to İskenderun at three in the morning. Likewise, 1-Michelin starred Pınar Taşdemir was on her way to Elbistan via Antep.

Meanwhile, famous chefs from starred restaurants were not the only ones rushing to help. Civil society organizations and food solidarity groups also organized among themselves. In Slow Food groups, producers provided food support, Kübra Yüzüncüyıl organized the collection and shipment of the aid, while Tarsus Slow Food group leader Yasmina Lokmanoğlu ensured that the aid was delivered to the right places. But of course, big chains and restaurant groups were not left behind. TURYID, Association of Restaurants and Hospitality, immediately established a solidarity group and set up a coordination desk. Gamze Cizreli, owner of Big Chefs group opened their headquarters, and with the support of BTA, Develi and Galliard, all the food aid, blankets, etc., emergency aid material and food packages to be distributed were loaded onto trucks and set off. Tahsin Öztiryaki, the owner of the biggest kitchen equipment company in the country, supported the establishment of mobile kitchens. Gökmen Sözen, who brings chefs from all over the world to Türkiye with the Gastromasa organization, established a social solidarity platform under the umbrella of Gastro Initiative with his wide communication network.

International support was also on the way. World-renowned Spanish-American chef José Andrés responded to the earthquake disaster, as he always does to reach out for disaster areas. José Andrés and his team, who have been helping the hungry, the homeless and those in need for many years now, with the World Central Kitchen aid group he founded, made their voice heard with their help, especially during Covid. The team, which had just responded to the forest fires in Chile, organized as soon as they heard about the earthquake and started to support local teams. It was heartwarming to see that the chef not only sent a team but also came in person and even helped to carry the parcels in Kahramanmaraş. Last but not least, Istanbul-based Italian chef Claudio Chinali deserves a special mention. He reached the earthquake-hit city of Malatya, set up a great kitchen, and started to serve warm meals. His aid call was rightly titled, “Insieme, ce la faremo,” meaning “Together we can make it,” so true, if we are in solidarity together, we can at least try to heal wounds, feed people and souls.

Aylin Öney Tan,