Yawning Lamb: The Turkish Stage

I seem to start out each of these stage recaps with some kind of apology for taking so long to write about it.  So, really I should just skip all of that since it can now be kind of assumed that it is at least 1-2 months after the end of the trip, and just get into the meat lamb of it.  In my defense, I did already cover 30 hours of the trip in my last post…which still came about 4 weeks after returning. Eh, what can you do?  Anyway, as I mentioned, the first 30 hours we were on our own, then the rest of the class rolled/flew into town and we took off on one of those whirlwind eating tours called stage that we get to do every 3-4 weeks.

Maksut the Man at work

Maksut the Man at work

Turkish cuisine is not something I knew particularly well prior to this trip, but we met two of its biggest and most eloquent advocates during our journey – Maksut Askar of Sekiz, and Semsa Denizsel, of the previously acclaimed Kantin.  Both Maksut and Semsa are emotional, evocative cooks, pouring stories and passion into their food. Maksut designed a tasting menu specifically for our dinner, complete with beverage pairings.  The food itself was delicious, but it was one of those beautiful evenings where each dish has a history and a story and Maksut told us these stories and these histories as he introduced each dish, and then we tasted them. We tasted them! The stories! Right there in our little bites of smoked bonito and couscous cooked in beet root and crispy pumpkin stuffed with buffalo clotted cream and mason jars brimming with hibiscus juice.  It is chefs like Maksut who give new meaning to the idea of eating ones feelings.  And as for Semsa, we met her several days after dining at Kantin on our own. And we found out that these days she is rarely in the kitchen, but the menus are hers, the dishes are hers, the restaurant is so fully and truly hers. And her food tastes of what it is – they are creations, not recipes, creations designed to highlight and contrast and play and excite.

These two chefs – both of whom are taking the known ingredients and flavor combos of Istanbul cuisine and turning them on their heads – were complemented by our meeting with Musa Dagdeviren, owner and chef of Ciya in Kadikoy.  This institution on the Asian side of Istanbul is widely recognized as one of the bastions of traditional Istanbul and Turkish food, and Musa, in addition to being a wonderful chef, is a food historian, dedicated to finding and preserving the recipes of Turkish history.  Lunch at Ciya is a dizzying array of parsley salads, spiced cheeses, puffed pillows of bread, platters and platters of lamb, and a little something called Paradise Mud – a dessert that can be made only during one annual spring fortnight – one for which we happened to arrive in Istanbul just in time.

Lunch at Ciya

Lunch at Ciya

On each trip, we meet the cuisine of the region in a different way. In Veneto, it was muddy hikes and factory tours, in Emilia, it was drowned in Lambrusco and slathered in pork fat, and in Istanbul, it was through these chefs, through these advocates of their cuisine. We did meet some fascinating producers and purveyors on this stage – including Aysun’s rule-bucking cattle farm and the Turkish Wonka-land of Cafer Erol in Kadikoy – but it was these full meals, these complete dishes, these masterpieces of the kitchen, that rocked – that rocked my taste buds, rocked my nose, and rocked the stomachs of a few of my classmates.

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