Mamma gli Italiani!

Mamma gli Italiani!

Mamma gli Italiani As I stepped into the newly revamped restaurant Fiamma, I could not help but utter to myself: “Mamma gli Italiani!” In history it was the Italians that feared the Turks and frightened children with the phrase “Mamma gli Turchi.” Now it is our turn to fear the Italians. This was the moment I realized that Turkish chefs should start to panic, if they haven’t done already so. Many of the well-known establishments in Istanbul recruit Italian chefs now, and this was a gathering of Italian chefs all living in Istanbul to cook a special dinner together.

The event was organized by chef Vittorio Sindoni, who invited his compatriots to cook together at the restaurant Fiamma. The concept was “good fellas” and among fellow Italians were Andrea Minguzzi, the executive chef of the French consulate; Claudio Chinali, the executive sous chef of Eataly; Erdal Kılıç, the executive chef of Fiamma; Gigi Mariconda, the executive chef of La Scarpetta (to be opened soon); Giovanni Terracciano, the executive chef of Mövenpick Hotel; Giuseppe Pressani, the executive chef of Paper Moon; and lastly Salvatore Bruni, the executive chef of Carluccio’s.

There is a saying in Italian: “Troppi cuochi guastano la minestra;” the exact equivalent is in English, too: Too many cooks spoil the soup! Well the ricotta-pumpkin soup prepared by Claudio of Eataly was not spoilt at all – actually it was very tasty – but little could be understood of the individual styles of the chefs. Maybe it was not the soup, but the whole coherence of the menu that was a bit undermined by too many chefs, but it was still an exciting occasion to get to know all the Italian folks who have made Istanbul their home. When I asked about their hometown, I discovered that many were from the south, either from Sicily or Naples, feeling very much at home in the chaos of Istanbul. They seem to enjoy being in an internationally rising mega-city, and don’t feel even a tiny bit homesick for the notorious traffic in Naples or Palermo. Actually Vittorio knows it all. He first came to Istanbul in the mid-1990s as a chef, worked in a variety of Italian restaurants like Papermoon, Bice and the W Hotel before going back to Italy and then to New York, but he finally decided that he felt perfectly at home in Istanbul, and opened his own place, Da Vittorio, about five years ago.

There is another saying in Italian: “Chi ha la mestola in mano, si fa la minestra a suo modo,” meaning who has the ladle in hand, rules the flavor. Those Italians are definitely good fellas, each worthy of following in their individual restaurants, with their own ladles and flavors. One big congratulation goes to the owners of Fiamma, one of the very few places that dares to open its kitchen to the chefs of rival institutions and makes their own restaurant a battleground of competition. Their good intentions were taken by the good fellas, and for one night, Fiamma turned into a ground of “amicizia,” a table of friendship!

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: While there seems to be a craze about international chefs, some venues keep it local and go for promoting the regional cuisines of Turkey. Grand Hyatt Istanbul is launching a series of weeks dedicated to regional foods; previously they had started with Antioch, Hatay; now this week is reserved for the tastes of Tokat. All dishes are meticulously prepared in five-star hotel quality with great care to remain authentic, with many of the ingredients flown in from Tokat. Dolmas, wrapped wine leaves stuffed with meat steal the show, together with keşkek, the wheat berry puree slow-cooked with lamb. Oddly enough, local chefs worked under the supervision of another “good fella” from Italy, chef Fabio Brambilla, a Milanese guy who is currently in love with the porcini mushrooms of Turkey. Fabio! I’m awaiting a fusion invention from you, maybe a risotto-style keşkek with porcinis?

Tokat Cookery can be sampled between Oct. 21-31 at 34 Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Bosphorus.  
Cork of the Week:
Sergi Arola, the famous two-Michelin-star chef, prepared another notable dinner last week at the Arola Restaurant at Raffles Hotel. The dinner is worth a mention in another article, but the Raffles Hotel is worth a good word for its outstanding cocktails. I noticed that Arola is very fond of his Negroni and enjoys a well-prepared Dirty Martini; both cocktails passed the quality test of Arola; the long list of The Long Bar is yet to be explored in this column.

Talks of the Week: There are two notable food talks in Istanbul this week. The first one is exceptionally important; while the second is exciting for me, as I’ll be the speaker.

•    The Consulate General of Greece in Istanbul will be starting a new series of lectures, under the supervision of Evangelia Balta, on the theme “Food, Spirits & Gastronomic Traditions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” between Oct. 21 and May 20 at Sismanoglio Megaro.

The first talks on the series start on Tuesday, Oct. 21, focused on bakeries and bread: Gerasimos Merianos (National Hellenic Research Foundation) will talk on “Bakeries in Byzantine Constantinople (8th - 12th c.);” and Marianna Yerasimos (Istanbul-based food writer, researcher) will talk on “From country-style bread to the French baguette. Forty kinds of bread in the Ottoman world.” Entrance is free of charge and there will be simultaneous translation from English to Turkish and vice versa. Lectures start at 7 p.m. at Sismanoglio Megaro, Istiklal Cad. No 60; Galatasaray, Beyoğlu, Istanbul.   

•    On Thursday, Oct. 23 is my talk on dried vegetables in Anatolian cuisine at YESAM, Culinary Arts Center: “Bone-Dry Freshness: Dried Vegetables in Turkish Cookery.” The lecture will be in English, between 3 p.n. and 4:30 p.m. and is free of charge, with an optional buffet of dried vegetable dishes offered by Nar Restaurant at 20 TL per person at YESAM Culinary Arts Center; Armaggan Nuruosmaniye 4th floor, Nuruosmaniye Cad. No: 41; Nuruosmaniye, Istanbul.