Shifts to Shuffles

Shifts to Shuffles

Aylin Öney Tan -
Shifts to Shuffles Stardom does not come easily in the culinary world. Endless shifts on the kitchen counter, chopping and cutting all day long, toiling over the stove for hours, aching feet, cuts and bruises, not to mention deep burn scars, are all part of it. No chef is exempt from this agony. In the glittery world of celebrity chefs, the road to success is paved with pain; all the glamour is tainted with blood, sweat and tears. 

The recent few decades have been the golden era of celebrity chefs. Many are treated like rock stars enjoying global fame. They tour around the world, having their work admired and appreciated, but seldom tasted by a wider public. To dine in one of their restaurants often costs a fortune, let alone if one can get a reservation, even if the travel and dining budget can be cast aside. Actually, many may even be absent from the kitchen, traveling elsewhere to appear at a culinary event. Most of us hear and read about their food, but do not have the opportunity to taste it. Our only choice is to keep imagining the experience in our wildest culinary dreams. Maybe the myth around them is about their elusiveness. This is part of the game; most of the hype is about virtual reality. 

The secret hidden in the chickpea

At this point, the concept of a dish becomes more important than the actual taste of the food itself. That is how I feel, and I kept repeating this to myself when I tasted the infamous “passatina di ceci,” a purée of chickpeas with a single “gambero rosso,” red shrimp. This was the signature dish of controversial chef personality Fulvio Pierangelini. My verdict was better to imagine it than taste it, but though I did not find anything particular in the taste itself, I admired the thought behind it and tried to imagine and even enjoy the moment it was created on the shore of an isolated Italian beach, at his legendary restaurant Gambero Rosso. 

Pierangelini is famous for his simple yet complex cuisine. He champions the ingredient itself and stays strictly away from playing with excessive flavor combinations, or adding this or that, masking the actual flavor of the main ingredient. I was a bit intimidated to tell others that I found the dish rather bland but I was right in a way; he was in exile once again, this time in Istanbul as a guest chef in Mikla, as part of the project The Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle. He was cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen, in a foreign land and it was not his own chickpeas, not the olive oil from his own garden, and definitely not the same tasty red shrimp. What we tasted was a concept. I thought if the staff of Mikla knew that he was going to cook that dish, they would amaze him with the most unusual varieties of chickpeas, all native to Anatolia, the homeland of chickpeas. Actually it was Mikla, chef Mehmet Gürs and his team, who have scoured the country to find regional ingredients and products for so many years, hunting for the most exquisite tastes and unusual foods. 

One of the earliest cultivated chickpeas is found in the Neolithic site of Hacılar, near Burdur in the southwest region of Turkey. The findings at the ancient Roman site of Sagalassos, which was near Burdur, revealed that one of the favorite dishes of the earlier inhabitants of the city included a diet based on a patina (like Fulvio’s passatina) of pulses, mainly made of chickpeas. Fulvio’s dish made me think we should be giving more and more thought to the preservation of our local native crop varieties and makeing it more and more accessible to our own chefs. 

This whole game of shuffling chefs around the world is the newest event of Gelinaz, a project originally created by chef Pierangelini and his close friend Andrea Petrini in 2005. Since then, each year they have 
been bringing together international chefs in an event which has never repeated itself. This year, 37 of the world’s most celebrated chefs from around the globe, from San Francisco to Melbourne, shifted places globally on July 9 and cooked a dinner at a restaurant in another city. The idea is about charting new territories and sharpening creativity. In this game even the glitteriest chefs challenge themselves, taking a shift in a completely alien environment, shuffling ideas and thoughts. We were lucky in Istanbul to have the original masterminds of the Gelinaz project. The food of Fulvio Pierangelini made me think about the emphasis and importance of a single ingredient, and the whole thing must be all about it anyway!  

More about Gelinaz next week, meanwhile check

Bite of the Week

Recipe of the Week: Pierangelini does not believe in recipes. He thinks a dish is dead when written down in a recipe, and a dish can only be kept alive if it is open to evolve. Sure, there is no doubt about it; who follows recipes exactly anyway? But I’ve found a recipe of his passatina di ceci on the internet, and it is open for you to evolve by experimenting with the best chickpeas you can find and with the amazing golden-green touch of local olive oils.

Soak 100 g of dried chickpeas overnight or for 12 hours. Rub the peel off and put in a pan with fresh water to cover. Add a clove of garlic and a sprig of rosemary with a little salt (I personally favor the rock salt of Çankırı). Cook for about 40 minutes or until totally soft; pass it through a sieve preserving the cooking liquid. Emulsify the puree of chickpeas by adding a little bit of the cooking liquid and extra virgin olive oil simultaneously. It should have the consistency of humus, not runny but not so thick either. Meanwhile cook about 800 g of shrimp, cleaned and gutted, in steam, until just tender. Put a ladle of the passita in each plate, and place a single big shrimp on it, and drizzle with more olive oil. Enjoy the thought!

Cork of the Week: Yaşasın! That is what we all uttered when the venue of the next Gelinaz event was announced as Istanbul at the end of the Pierangelini at Mikla dinner. That was also the name of Fulvio’s favorite Turkish drink. He is said to have sipped Yaşasın all the way through the day in pauses in the kitchen when preparing his eight-course dinner. Yaşasın by Vinkara is the only bubbly in Turkey made with méthode champenoise from the indigenous grape variety Kalecik Karası, from Kalecik near Ankara. Good choice chef! Hope we’ll all share another glass May 11, 2016.