Trending Now: Folk Cuisine

Vedat Başaran is one of the deans of Turkish gastronomy. with deep expertise in all the basic world cuisines, Başaran specializes in ottoman cuisine.

Gastronomy: A giant of a treasure
You’ve been focusing on folk cuisine for some time now. How did that come about?
I am actually a chef who was trained in the West, in London. When I returned to Turkey from a place like London where gastronomy is highly valued, I had a lot of doubts in my mind. Gastronomy as a cultural value had not even entered our literature yet in the eighties. Even the terminology was lacking. Introducing Ottoman and folk dishes in such an environment, getting them accepted by a broad mass of people and elevating them to the position they deserve was a serious problem I faced. But the process soon gained momentum.

What factors influenced that rapid development?
There was a palpable increase in the number of five-star hotels together with the emergence of Turkey and her expanding economy. The first steps in gastronomy in our country took place in the restaurants of those five-star hotels. One after the other a series of venues opened with highly developed thematic and aesthetic concepts. Parallel with that, competition increased and quality demand began to emerge, which raised gourmet food to a high position in Turkey. My aim was to promote our cuisine enthusiastically on international gastronomy platforms, and I engaged in a number of efforts in that area.

How was the risk compared with that for other cuisines?
It was an enormous risk, because gastronomy in the world’s leading capitals like New York, Paris and London is marketed together with quality in architecture, presentation and ambience. In Turkey, on the other hand, there wasn’t much difference between the food culture of the 1950’s and that of the 1980’s. Food was viewed as little other than a way of filling one’s stomach. What’s interesting is that when we look back at the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th and the sources from that period, we see that there was a very advanced level of gastronomic taste and a highly developed cuisine in this part of the world. In some ways we have unfortunately regressed. But as we approach the present, an unprecedented development has been taking place in Turkey since the nineties.  A proliferation of researchers has not only ensured the introduction of Turkey’s regional cuisines in Istanbul but also recognition abroad.

French and Italian cuisines are known and loved around the world. Why didn’t the same thing happen with Ottoman cuisine?
We did not regard our cuisine as a commercial commodity, nor did we look closely into its history. Nevertheless we do see that in the Ottoman period and the early years of the Republic our cuisine was extremely refined. Certain elements that color our culture were also lost over time through migration. The concept of marketing and the training of experts play a big role, too. Intensive efforts by the governments of France and Italy, for example, have had a hand in creating the cachet their cuisines enjoy in the U.S. today.

How did you decide to focus on folk cuisine?
Folk cuisine is a great cultural treasure that represents the diversity and richness of a people’s appreciation of food. Things are always changing in folk cuisine. Whatever comes from nature, from the field, is used in the kitchen depending on the season. Artichokes, for example, are not eaten in mid-winter because they’re expensive. Instead, artichokes appear on the table in spring when they are plentiful and therefore economical to buy. When produce is fresh, it’s also healthy. But the most important thing about folk dishes is presentation. Like other dishes, they have to be presented in quality venues and fashionable surroundings with the importance they deserve. When presented in that way, even discriminating diners choose folk cuisine for business and social dinners. We also took that approach when we were starting out.

Stuffed artichokes İzmir-style

Ingredients:
5 artichokes, 1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped, 1/2 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped, 1/2 bunch dill weed, finely chopped, 3 green onions, finely chopped, 1/4 cup olive oil, juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp salt, 200 g rice

Preparation:
Rinse and drain the rice, and prepare the stuffing by mixing the chopped parsley, mint, dill and green onions together with the olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Peel the artichokes, fill with the stuffing and arrange in a pot. Add water to no more than half way up the sides of artichokes. Add salt,  piece of greaseproof paper and the lid of the pot, and cook for about an hour. When cool, sprinkle with chopped dill and drizzle with olive oil.

Friends of the kitchen
Turkish gastronomy has been followed abroad since 2005, in a development due to the contributions of distinguished figures like Tuğrul Şavkay, Ahmet Öz, Ali Rıza Kardüz, Atilla Dorsay, and Turgut and Günay Kut. Friends of the Kitchen has also made a great contribution to the field of gastronomy.

Who is Vedat Başaran?
Vedat Başaran organizes regular seminars and all-day workshops on traditional Ottoman palace cuisine and traditional sweets like rock candy and lokoum. For more information: www.narlokantasi.com