Sultan of Sicily

Sultan of Sicily

Fork & Glass of the Week:

MammaDrau deserves multiple visits. There are other hidden talents in the kitchen, executive chef Marco Corallo has been working with Ciccio for 30 years being responsible of kitchens in his various outlets, he is now in Bodrum. Interestingly, years back, Ciccio was an apprentice in Marco’s father’s patisserie. When in MammaDrau, one must consider paying a visit entirely dedicated to cocktails by mixologist Gürkan Karanfil, and the wonderful little plates reflecting street foods of Sicily, prepared by Ciccio’s brigade of Sicilian chefs bridging Sicily and Bodrum. Signature cocktails are mostly named after venues of Sultano, all are worth exploring, Sultano itself seems to be the right one for Bodrum featuring a local whiff with Duziko and Skinos Mastikha, with a sea breeze freshness with bayil and lime juice, and a punch of black pepper. So Mediterranean!

Sicily, for me, is like the whole sum of the entire Mediterranean. Being right in the middle of the Mediterranean. In a sense, it is like the ball on the tip of the boot, where Italy ends, at a location that separates the Mediterranean from east and west, where Europe stretches out as if it wants to touch Africa. Sicily has always been in close contact with the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, and Sicilian cookery has been influenced greatly by the east, especially the medieval Arabian cuisine. Arabs ruled Sicily between the 9th-11th centuries, initiating land reforms, progress in agriculture, introducing new crops such as citrus fruits, pistachios and sugar cane.

Sicily has never been completely under Ottoman rule but was greatly affected by Ottoman naval presence in the seas that surround the island. Starting from the 1520s, a so-called Turkish storm blew in its seas, Ottoman pirates and captains leaving their mark on its inhabitants and folk tales. Especially in the strait of Messina, which separates Italy and Sicily, Dragut was a notoriously feared captain. If one wonders who Dragut was, it is our heroic Turgut Reis from Bodrum. The name Turgut first became Dargut and then Dragut in the local Sicilian dialect. Turgut Reis is known in Western countries as the uncrowned king or sultan of the Mediterranean. He joined the naval forces of Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha, aka Barbarossa, who was first an Ottoman corsair, and then appointed as the Grand Admiral of the Ottoman army by Suleiman the Magnificent. Turgut Reis, or Dragut as the Sicilians know him, joined the fleet of Barbarossa in 1520, who became his protector and his best friend. Soon Dragut was practically ruling the Sicilian seas, mamma gli siciliani captured the castle of Capo Passero on the southeastern end of the island and made numerous landings in many Sicilian ports. That’s why the word “MammaDrau” was used to scare the children, similar to Mamma li Turchi, in a sense “Mamma, the Turks are coming!”

Mamma gli Siciliani!

Now MammaDrau is in Bodrum, in the hometown of the captain who terrified the Sicilians.
Do not think that the Dragut is re-born, it is just the name of the new Italian restaurant by the Sicilian chef Ciccio Sultano, to honor the feared captain in his birthplace, originally Karatoprak village, later re-named after the captain. The restaurant opened inside the Barbaros Bay Kempinski Hotel in Bodrum, note the other connection here, Barbarossa Bay. Chef Ciccio Sultano is one of the leading chefs in Italy, and I call him as the Sultan of Sicilian cuisine. He has achieved two Michelin stars for his Il Duomo restaurant in Ragusa, and his other outlets I Banchi and Cantieri Sultano, which also sell local products from small artisanal producers, are the most important gastronomic stops of Ragusa. Most recently, he opened Pastamara in The Ritz Carlton in Vienna. Bodrum MammaDrau is his second stop outside Italy, but he is already looking forward to opening another location in Istanbul in the future.

The chef’s story is long, his road long. Ciccio, short for Francesco, Sultano comes from a Maltese family that has probably mingled with the Arabs, and who knows maybe with the Ottomans, as the surname suggests. He is a power of energy. He started to work as a bricklayer at the tender age of nine, and at the age of 13 he started to work at the famous Pasticceria Suite di Vittoria, and then moved on to a spaghetteria in Marina di Ragusa. As his skills developed, and his natural talents shined, his thirst for knowledge grew bigger and bigger, leading to a quest to explore the world of chefs.

He says that even in his early youth days, he knew that he would open his own restaurant one day. To gain experience abroad he developed his meat cooking skills in Germany, then headed directly to New York where he worked in the kitchens of Lidia Bastianich, one of Eataly’s partners in America, who is considered the mother of Italian cuisine in the U.S. After gaining enough international experience, he returned to his hometown of Sicily to open his first restaurant Il Duomo in 2000, which received its first Michelin star in 2004, the second two years later. Now, apart from his Sicilian venues, he is taking on challenges in other locations, such as Rome and Vienna, and now in Bodrum.

Bodrum-Sicily Connection

Why Bodrum? This is partly coincidence, partly fate, but also greatly a sense of connection, a naturally felt sentiment that invisibly connects Sicily and Bodrum, perhaps the spirit of Dragut or Turgut. “As it usually happens, there are two reasons that motivate you to open in a particular location: To become more familiar with it and because you feel it is somehow close to you” says Ciccio Sultano and adds, “After Vienna and Rome, the third destination of my culinary journey makes my belief even stronger: We are all united and we could be even more connected thanks to the sincerity and curiosity that go along with real cuisine.”

Another reason might be the local products of the Bodrum area. Ciccio Sultano’s biggest passion is to discover local products, his plates always feature the best ingredients that come from the sea or soil. In Bodrum he uses the produce and free-range chickens of Barbaros Farm, located in Mumcular in Bodrum, and please again note the name, Barbarossa giving its name to the farm. He discovers the connections between Sicilian and Bodrum flavors and gets excited when he finds similarities. For example, exploring Turkish pistachios from Antep made him use the local variety instead of the Sicilian ones, which he notes that it is the same cultivar anyway. However, he sometimes prefers to opt for the original tastes of Sicily, he said to achieve the authentic taste, he chose to carry 20 kilos of tuna bottarga in his suitcase, because the Sicilian version is way more intense in flavor. The Turkish version is not made from the roe of tuna fish, but from grey mullet, so milder in taste. Ciccio makes a wonderful pasta with this bottarga, using lemon zest and lemon juice, and of course, the pasta is freshly home made with a very special machine brought from Italy.

There are many similarities between Turkish and Sicilian cuisines, sometimes name-wise. Cassata, one of the most popular desserts of Sicilian cuisine, takes its name from the word “kâse,” meaning bowl in Turkish, which simply means bowled, or molded in a bowl. The amazing Sicilian rice balls “arancini” has roots in Middle Eastern “kibbeh,” or Turkish “içli köfte/stuffed meatball” versions. The similarities are yet to be explored by the chef, who gives a salute to the famed captain. Dragut once blew a Turkish storm in Sicilian seas, it is now the turn of Cicco Sultano to blow a Sicilian culinary storm in Bodrum, hometown of Turgut Reis.

Aylin Öney Tan,