Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Modern Turkish Cuisine.
I’m very partial to classic Turkish food. I grew up with Ottoman dishes like yaprak dolma (rice-stuffed vine leaves with currants and pine nuts) and the famous imam bayildi (literally: the priest fainted – a dish of long eggplant stuffed with onion, garlic, pimiento, parsley and tomato, cooked in olive oil. And, grilled fish (branzino or sea bass) and shish kebab with cacik i.e. charcoal-grilled skewered meat cubes with a garlicky yoghurt sauce, are still part of my diet.
However, Turkish gastronomy has evolved since the days of my youth and we were recently invited to a dinner where a Turkish chef, Maksut Aşkar of Istanbul’s Neolokal restaurant, came to the US to showcase modern Turkish dishes at the Sunday in Brooklyn restaurant. Jaime Young, the chef at Sunday in Brooklyn, created dishes alongside Mr. Aşkar, and it was very interesting tasting the results of both chefs’ creativity with mostly vegetable and fish dishes, plus a beef tartare appetizer and a Colorado lamb main course. Pastry chef Maura Kilpatric created the dessert which was based on a classic kunefe ice cream with shredded cataif and honeynut squash accented by toasted honeyed pistachios and toasted pumpkin seeds.
There were two appetizers described in the menu as “Snacks”. Five main course small dishes – tasty samples of sea brim, sea bass and tile fish, a vegetable dish and the lamb dish. And we finished with the dessert and coffee. Since Turkey produces some really nice wines, I was rather surprised to be served mostly international wines (a New York Cider, a Greco from Puglia, a rosé from Corsica and a sherry from Spain) with the meal and only one white from Turkey.
Most impressive and delicious was Mr. Aşkar’s appetizer of a ball of mixed cracked wheat (bulgur) and beef tartare, yoghurt and mustard, and turmeric pickled cauliflower on a bed of thinly sliced pickled turnip.
And Mr. Young’s sea bass crudo, curry leaf, oroblanco grapefruit and turmeric was another really outstanding dish.
The dessert was also creative and interesting but personally I would have preferred one of the custards Turkish cuisine is famous for, either tavukgöğsü or kazandibi. They are both sweet custards, the first made from chicken breasts, the second by allowing the custard at the bottom of the large copper pot where the dessert is made, to caramelize. And real Turkish kahveh would have been preferable over the espresso.
Even though I still long for the traditional tastes of my childhood, it seems Turkish chefs have joined the culinary competition of the 21st century for innovation and excellence by experimenting with the well-known ingredients and spices of the country to achieve a “new” Turkish cuisine.
The company we had at the table, Mr. Ahmet Selçuk Nalbat of the Turkish trade commission and Ms. Gizem Emel, a vice consul at the Turkish Embassy, proved to be delightful and informative dinner companions.
Thanks to StarChefs for organizing this event. It brought up memories of my youth and my visits with my Uncle George and Aunt Katie who lived in Istanbul and who cultivated in me the love of great food and good wines.
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