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New Big Apple from Old World: Istanbul's Culinary Renaissance

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Since I was away from my home town Istanbul for a decade, I wasn't clearly realizing how Istanbul's culinary scene went through from local limited edition to full version super sized glamorous way from abroad. Two years ago, when I came back to Istanbul, it was shocking to see many Turkish chefs and restaurateurs whom were "rapidly" opening up hip, bold, adventurous and revolutionist concept restaurants which they successfully operates all over the city and that moment made me realized how Istanbul was going through a modern culinary renaissance.

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So that was a sign to say no longer content to have Turkish food defined in terms of kebabs and kofte by foreigners to me. I was clearly and proudly witnessing to an end of an era for Turkish cuisine. Thanks to those visionary young and old local chefs pushing the boundaries of Turkish cuisine.

A while ago, the country's top chefs have gathered in the city to take part in the prestigious international, Bocuse d'Or cooking competition in Istanbul, hoping to promote their vision of the country's gastronomic scene. That's where I met with country's top chef Aydin Demir who was also a jury member at the Bocuse d'Or.

Kebabs, kofte, aubergine slices dripping in sauce. Those are the dishes that spring to mind to most when thinking of Turkish food. But Turkey's restaurant scene is experiencing something of a renaissance with the development of a new-old with traditional twist, modern, re-engineered Turkish cuisine, spearheaded by top chef Aydin DEMIR who won many national and international awards as a best chef, only Turkish winner of high end "Les Toques Blanches du Monde" award at Lion, France in 2012, he also permanent member of prestigious "The Club of Les Toques Blanches du Monde" along with Chef Daniel Boulud, Chef Mathieu Viannay and many other world renowned chefs.

He says, I simply making the most of what my country has to offer: quality meat from Anatolia and vegetables, fish from the Mediterranean and Black Seas and recalling old recipes to inspires me to cook those goodies with new techniques as well as new approaches makes the magic with love to my job and cuisine.

Aydin Demir, Executive Chef, re-creator of Divan Lokanta at Divan Hotel and Prestigious Private Koc Museum Restaurants ( Both are member of Koc Corporations) kitchens, said, " We have a perfect recipe for solid development with tremendous culinary richness. It has not been tapped fully yet. Visionary culinary schools are on the way, new restaurants are popping up with bold chefs and restaurateurs. It used to be very traditional and degraded itself, what I mean by that is that we the Turks were degrading our own cuisine, we were kind of having personality problem but now that most needed confidence establishing rapidly and you can caption its reflection everywhere. So we can say we have the new re-own ( he smiles) Turkish cuisine as well. He also carefully adds that we need to find a balance between the two as an Ottoman chefs and modern Turkish chefs. Not completely forget the old, but not just go to the new foolishly.

"Rightfully" Turkish chefs are trying to get rid of their unhealthy reputation because of its known kebab culture. They are creating new dishes from traditional ingredients using modern cooking methods and renewing their culinary heritage along with learning to promote their skills in a global scale.

Little over a decade ago, food scene was not going too far from adopting western cuisines and serving it to locals .The reason of why that long waited culinary revolution hasn't been taken place in Turkey not because lack of knowledge but popularity of cooking institution in Turkey. I myself who is coming from all chefs family still vividly remember my childhood time at school where my teacher asked me once "what was my fathers profession" in front of all class and I ashamed to mention it because of its perception as a low class profession at that time. Now I am glad to see those days are over and culinary institution taken its rightful place in Turkey.

So since Istanbul becoming new big apple for the world again, not just her business men and women taken on board for leading international corporations ( i.e. Coca Cola's President Muhtar Kent ) also new wave of chefs have taken from Turkey on board for their skills from all over the world as well. By simplifying their traditional cuisine this Turkish food renaissance is on its way to achieving global recognition, and who knows, in a few years time, maybe even some of those coveted Michelin stars.



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