Past forward

Past forward

Past forward

There is always a dilemma facing gastronomy students. They become competent in classics, but their hearts are set in creating tomorrow’s masterpieces. They strive to be the next creative genius, another milestone in the history of the culinary world. Being creative is not everyone’s fare; it is hard to find one’s own voice, especially in the early stages of life. Young chefs tend to be copycats of famous celebrity chefs. Gastronomy is one field where plagiarism is not frowned upon much. 

Being impatient comes with being young. For the current whichever-last-three-alphabet-letter generation they belong to, the quest for becoming an instant success is greater than ever. They do not want to recognize the fact that this is a profession of blood, sweat and tears, but they only tend to see the glitz and glam on social media. When it comes to reading, few young chefs have the time to read. This is not only confined to young people in the gastronomy sector, but having the patience to read is a rare merit. Furthermore, for young people who do read, it is not always easy to digest knowledge.

History is one topic almost all chefs feel uneasy about. They like to play with the idea of getting their inspiration from the past, but knowledge in history is elusive in the field of history. Blabbering about ancient civilizations may be the chic trend now, but unfortunately, chefs seldom have a clue what they are talking about. One does not need to have a degree in history of course, but understanding the past and grasping the essence of traditional dishes may lead the path to creativity.

Last week, students from the Özyeğin University Gastronomy Department took the lead and organized a symposium, all by themselves, namely by the ÖzÜ Cuisine Student Club with the leadership of the club president Ecem Karakuş under the supervision of Dr. Özge Samancı, head of the Gastronomy and Culinary Art Department. The symposium theme was chosen as “Turkish Cuisine in the Context of Tradition and Innovation,” with several panels held by leading experts of gastronomy and topics ranging from history to regional local foods; from innovative new trends in the Turkish culinary scene to the potential of Turkish cuisine in the world gastronomy.

Being one of the panelists in the history session, my personal contribution was on how to understand history to be creative for the future, how to have an analytical eye to deconstruct recipes and cooking techniques and how to see the concept behind age-old traditional foods. To my delight, what I tried to convey in my message was successfully implemented in the special lunch students prepared for us. Fourth year students İlayda Maltacı, Berkay Çetinkaya, İsmail Yenigün, and Çağla Gürses led in the kitchen. Their plates were impeccable, proving they are ready to embark on the long journey of creativity with a solid basis in historic classics.

Among the acclaimed guests, there was one critical eye the students dreaded, Batur Durmay, the owner of Asitane, who is one of the pioneers in bringing Ottoman cuisine to the table. He considered the dishes, in particular, the terkib-i çeşidiyye, as sublime. His only criticism was on the quality of saffron used. All the other experienced chefs approved of the student’s dishes, but it was actually no student dish. It was a proper five-star meal cooked to perfection. Proof that a bit of history helps.

Recipe of the Week: The amuse bouche was tarator, a delightful garlicky walnut paste with cucumbers, served on cheese crackers. The recipe was adapted by Assoc. Professor Dr. Özge Samancı from “A Manual of Turkish Cookery” translated into English by Türabi Efendi, which was the first English language Turkish cookbook published in 1864.

Here is the original recipe. Adapt yours in your own way:

“Crack a pound of nuts or almonds, scald and skin them, then pound them in a stone mortar. Add half a teaspoonful salt, three or four garlic peeled, and pound them well together with the nuts, then add the crumb of half of a French penny roll, previously soaked in water, and pound again all together until it forms a smooth substance like paste. Moisten it with half of a teacup of the best vinegar, or the juice of two or three lemons, and bring it to the consistency of cream with some water, stirring it all the time with a wooden spoon. Then, peel and cut in thin slices one or two cucumbers in a dish, season with a little salt and white pepper, and pour the sauce over. Pour one or two spoonfuls of the best olive oil over by degrees, and serve. The leaves of purslane make a nice salad with the above sauce. Broccoli, cauliflower and the stalks of spinach, previously scalded, also make a good salad with the same sauce.”

- Türabi Efendi, A Manual of Turkish Cookery, London, 1864, no. 203

Fork of the Week: The bread served at the lunch was incredible. Astonished by the quality, I asked who made it and learned that it was the bread from Siyez Evi, a Kastamonu based group producing a great range of food products made with siyez wheat, an ancient wheat variety Triticum monococcum. I have been avoiding carbs for a long time. When I eat bread, I have noticed that soon after, there is a drastic decline in my energy level. I ate a good thick slice of siyez bread and felt amazingly good. So this is living proof that a bit of history is beneficial for the health as well. Discover more at:

Cork of the Week: The beverages served at lunch were all historical sherbets. My favorite was, as always, the odd vinegar and honey mix. Known as “Oxymel” in Ancient Greek and Roman periods, and “Sirkencübin” in Old Persian and Ottoman cuisines, it has a catching sweet and sour taste. You may play with the flavors by choosing different kinds of honey and vinegar. To make your own, mix one part each of honey and vinegar and mix with four parts of water. Chill well. Serve on the rocks or on cracked ice. Note that the taste differs dramatically according to how it is served. I tend to like it with a single big cube of ice, just as I’d enjoy whisky.