Yogurt means a rich culture

Yogurt means a rich culture

AYLİN ÖNEY TAN - aylin.tan@hdn.com.tr
Yogurt means a rich culture Dried yogurt, burnt yogurt, preserved yogurt, yogurt butter, yogurt cheese. The list goes on and on... In Turkey yogurt is not simply plain yogurt; it has an enormous range of varieties and usages. If you’re curious to see to what extent this fermented culture goes, you need to be at the Gastro Istanbul event next Sunday.

The Gastro Istanbul will be held this week 9-12th May. The event will offer an opportunity to taste the specialties of a great number of restaurants in Istanbul, but the hidden gem of the whole event lies inside a tent. The tent event is organized by the recently founded Turkish Cuisine Association and will host a number of presentations, panels, discussions, demos, and tastings, all with simultaneous translation or in English.

The yogurt session next Sunday will include a presentation by myself, a tasting of yogurt products from all over Turkey, with the participation of two very unalike guests. The first guest, traveler, photographer and writer Kevin Revolinski is not necessarily a food person but he is a convert to yogurt. His book The Yogurt Man Cometh is about the year he lived in Turkey, in which he tells the story of how getting acquaintance with yogurt is a way of understanding the country. Once alien to yogurt culture, he now simply adds to his biography: He loves Ayran!

The highlight of the panel is hosting the legendary Harold McGee, the guru of all chefs worldwide, modestly calling himself the curious cook. He, too, does not originally have a culinary background, but his interest shifted from literature to writing about the chemistry of food and cooking, probably because the title of his doctoral thesis was “Keats and the Progress of Taste.” His destiny was shaped by this title which he describes as “prophetic.” I feel such sympathy for that kind of drastic life change, having myself abandoned a career in architectural conservation and shifted to food writing. The career shift of Harold McGee had been phenomenal, as with the life and careers changes of many worldwide.
His first book, published in 1984, was a 680-page compendium: “On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen.” The book had a great impact on the newly awakening American and British food circles and satisfied the quest for having knowledge on what happens exactly when one cooks. His next book, “The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore,” now out of print, was followed by the completely revised version of “On Food & Cooking” in 1990, a colossal reference encyclopedia for all.
I first met McGee in person at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery in 2009, the year when the theme was “Cured, Fermented and Smoked Foods.” I was going to present a paper on yogurt, not only totally in-line with the “fermented” theme, but also covering the cured, preserved, smoked aspects as I had an immense variety of such yogurt oddities to talk about. I was feeling very, if not overly, confident. Among the audience who would know the topic better than me? At that point I have to make a confession: I had a problem with public speaking. In my first year at Oxford I was such a nervous wreck that another symposiast gave me pills to overcome my anxiety. But here, for the first time, I was totally relaxed and not excited. And then something unanticipated happened; I noticed Harold McGee, keynote speaker of the year, walking in and sitting right in the middle of the room, completely within my eye range. All of a sudden I was completely paralyzed like a high school student just before entering University exams forgetting about all the basic formulas. I remember trying to recall names of the two bloody bacteria that makes yogurt, with the fearful feeling of “What the hell will I do if he asks a question about fermentation?” My nervousness grew even bigger when I saw also Sandor Ellix Katz walking in, the author of The Art of Fermentation. (Yes, he’s the one who got the James Beard award the other day!)

Miraculously it all went well, and I vividly remember the glorious victory when I saw McGee taking notes. So there was something in our massive yogurt culture he was curious about!

PS: The same very talk will be repeated next at Gastro Istanbul event, this time Harold McGee not only listening but tasting and commenting on the peculiarities of yogurt.

Bite of the week

Fork of the Month: Quite a few good forks will be available at Gastro Istanbul, check the stall of Kırpınar Koftecisi. I’m addicted to their yogurt as well as their seductively crisp fried liver. A good bite is only complete with good reading. Check these:

Kevin Revolinski: www.revtravel.com; www.TheMadTravelerOnline.com;
Harold McGee: http://curiouscook.typepad.com/
Proceedings of Oxford Symposium:
Sandor Ellix Katz: http://www.wildfermentation.com/

Cork of the Month: The recent debate on “Ayran” being the national drink means that we totally hit the agenda by picking the yogurt theme. The “real” national drink rakı is actually among the very few types of booze that is compatible with yogurt. Perhaps the reason behind rakı being national is just because it is compatible with our national food yogurt. Next Sunday join the Tekirdağ Rakısı barbecue party at Event Garden in Sariyer.