10 chefs, Mouad, Berk, Naz, Ruslan, Zoltan, Altan, Akara, Rifaat, Pasa and Azra, fresh from Turkey, sit at a roundtable with Vicky and Arya. The menu is in the making. But maybe, they’re making a mess. As long as it doesn’t make it to the mess, they should be fine.
They’ve come from Istanbul, Kas, Side, Mardin, Goreme, Sanliurfa, Amasya, Bozcaada, Safranbolu and Uzungol. Every town has its treats. And the chefs will courier them to customers when they cook these up at Turkish Kiss.
“I want an explosion of colour on my plate!”, announces Arya.
The assembly agrees.
The Ottoman Empire was made up of an assortment of nations. These lands were allowed to preserve their cultures, stick to their own craftsmanship, cooking and even the trades they practiced. The Jews, the Armenians, the Romans kept to what they were doing, adding to the Ottoman Empire’s pot of vibrant and varied fare.
“After all, this was the original fusion food”, she adds.
And the cuisine at Turkish Kiss would have to be reflective of this Empire of Nations. Colourful, rich and diverse.
Their Chief Chef, Mouad, starts, “Istanbul is where Asia and Europe embrace. It’s the world’s only city straddling two continents. The reign of the Ottomans heralded a new chapter for Turkish society and its food. And the imperial kitchen was where it all began. The start of a cuisine that would influence and instruct a nation for centuries.”
And then he shares any cook’s fairytale, “The Palace Kitchen: It’s where the magic happened. It housed up to 1300 members of staff, the cooks, and their assistants. They used all these giant pots. There was such fierce competition. Not just to get in but also to get ahead. So these cooks would bring their recipes from their own villages, their own regions and then they also invented new ones. Oh the process of perfecting them and then trying to one up each other! It really was a happy hunting ground.”
Vicky whips them up. “This is quite like the palace kitchen then. Considering each one of you comes from a different part of Turkey. Let’s start with the palace spread. If we take what was cooked in the palace to the people, it gives you, the chefs of today a chance to capture and re-envision Turkish cooking.”
A Turkish Kiss. From the palace to the people. Quite the clincher!
Pasa buttresses the idea, “Turkish cuisine, rich with centuries of history is experiencing something of a renaissance. A new generation of chefs and food lovers is keeping traditions going while embracing modern influences.”
Naz says, “You see, outside castle walls, people that were absorbing palace cuisine into their own cooking styles, created new customs that continue to evolve. For instance, the institution of weekend breakfast.”
“Ah yes! Weekend breakfast. We must give our diners that experience.”, insists Arya.
“Now wait a minute”, Altan interjects, “we’ll have to get hold of the finest Turkish Tea and Coffee”.
“Ah! Crucial to the table!”, exclaims Azra.
“You know what else is?”, she goes on, “Spices!”
“Of course. Do you think we can import Turkish spices Arya?” asks Altan.
“A lot of them coincide with their Indian counterparts. For the ones that don’t, a 4% import duty won’t pinch us.” She turns towards Vicky inquiringly.
“Certainly not if we can get our fingers into an added “pinch” of Turkish spice”, quips Vicky.
Brother and sister giggle. And the assembly strings along.
Rifaat brings everyone back to business, “One thing concerns me: the freshness of food. Surely you’d know Turkey was one of the very first governments, so to speak, to actually pass laws on the freshness of food.”
“Yes, we’re looking at farm fresh, organic produce. All our provisions will come from a local farmer’s market”, confirms Arya.
“Lovely! It puts me at peace when I know the owner of the stand picked her fruits and vegetables just that morning. So you know the food is as fresh as you can get it, outside of growing it yourself of course. Even organic meat and dairy and eggs! So much more wholesome, so much more salubrious than their conventionally-raised cousins.” says a pleased Rifaat.
Vicky beefs up the organic course, “It tastes better, it’s affordable, more nutritious and environmentally friendly. There’s more variety at a farmer’s market…”
Berk cuts in, “Might I also add, it’s seasonal. And that’s perfectly in line with traditional Turkish servings. What comes to your plate belongs to that season.”
Mouad backs him up, “Absolutely! Our menu must include seasonal specials.”
“Very well then, what’re we putting on the slate?” asks Naz.
Akara has a cute comment, “For starters, we’re putting our love, our emotions and our positive energy into our food without which it’s not going to be tasteful.”
Fulfilled that someone opened that chest, Zoltan opened his heart, “I cannot tell my emotions really well. But through food, for example, through the food I cook, I feel it’s easier to tell emotions. So for me, cooking is a channel for my ideas, for my world vision to get embodied.”
Arya sparkled, “That’s beautiful you two. Your hunger to feed; it’ll make the Turkish Kiss genuine. An authentic Turkish offering.”
The assembly was moved. Right into menu mode…
Ruslan takes the first steps, “We’re looking at Eggs, Sucuk, Kaymak, Pastirma, Borek, Simit, Pogaca, Menemen at Breakfast…”
“No no! No Pastirma. Beef is banned here!” Akara hastily corrects him.
“Oh! Pardon me. No Pastirma then.” He then sees to the other meals with, “Hummus, Tabouleh, Baba Ganoush, Moutabel and other Dips, Tursu, Breads, Rice Pilaf, Manti, Soups, Salads, Falafels, Dolma, Sarma, Cheese and Mezze Platters, Yogurts, Olives, Kumpir, Doner, Kofte, Stews, Fish, Kebabs, Baklava, Crepes, Kanafe, Pastries, Puddings, Helva, Sobiyet, Cakes, Lokma…” Ruslan runs out of breath.
All the chefs pull their knives out for a complex contest to pick and choose the items on the cart.
The Kitchen was now open!
Mouad cuts in every now and then with a “time honoured secret of Turkish cooking: If you’re making a sweet dish, put a bit of salt. If you’re making a savoury dish, put a bit of sugar. What it does, it brings up the flavour.”
There will be trials and rejections and experiments and epiphanies and hand-picked inclusions.
All to put their finest food on the table.
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