At APB we are not really big fans of hotel food festivals; we think there are too many of them by far. Occasionally however a festival comes up that we think is too good to miss. When I received an invite to the Turkish food festival at the Hyatt on Facebook, I was one of the first to ok it! I was really eager to visit this one because I spent two idyllic days of foodie discovery in Istanbul in 2009 and I was eager to relive the flavours I tasted there. I also wanted to talk to the chef, because I am fascinated by Turkish cuisine! There are so many similarities in ingredients, cooking styles and even names of dishes and yet both Indian and Turkish cuisines could never be confused with one another. They are both distinctly different. Where Indian Cuisine can be a complex combination of ingredients, Turkish cuisine is all about bringing out the flavours of the foods.
Chef Zeki Kalayci of the Grand Hyatt, Istanbul was kind enough to spend an afternoon, answering my questions about Turkish food, instructing me in the nuances of Turkish cooking, teaching me to make Dolmas (stuffed vine leaves). After a fabulous trip down memory lane with the buffet, he sent me off with a bag full of the most delicious Turkish delight I have ever had!
Interview of Chef, Zeki Kalayci
A third-generation chef, Zeki Kalayci was born in Mengen, Turkey; the small town known for its fantastic cuisine and chefs with most caliber since the Ottoman Empire.
Chef Kalayci has an impressive culinary background; he entered the kitchen at the early age of 14. His long innings have provided him a wealth of experience. Currently Chef de Cuisine at Grand Hyatt Istanbul that is known for its Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine, Chef Kalayci is one of the Turkey’s best chefs and has worked in five star hotels and high end restaurants in Turkey and all over the world. This was his first trip to India and he is really excited about the Turkish Food Festival at Glasshouse, Hyatt Regency Mumbai.
There are a lot of similarities between Turkish and Indian cuisines/cooking? What has been your most interesting discovery?
Turkish cuisine has a lot of steaming and braising whereas Indian cuisine involves a lot of frying. Even in terms of flavours, though there are many similarities between the ingredients, yet the flavours of the spices in Turkish cuisine are so distinct!
What is a spice/product you use a lot in your cooking?
I use a lot of oregano in my cooking as I feel that it brings out the flavour of the dishes and since Turkish cuisine has a lot of European influence, oregano is readily available.
Any Indian ingredients you use in your dishes?
The predominant ingredient in most of my dishes is Cardamom which is an Indian spice used in Turkish desserts, coffee, tea and like India in a lot of the main course dishes as well. The other common ingredients used in both Turkish and Indian cuisine are spices, eggplant and tomatoes.
How many times have you visited Mumbai? How has your experience in Mumbai been so far?
This is my first visit to India and Mumbai. I am looking forward to spending some time visiting the local spice market in Mumbai and feel that the people in this city are very warm and inviting.
How has your experience in Mumbai been on the food front? What have been your most interesting food experiences?
Interestingly many of the Turkish dishes have Indian names or are already known in India. I am looking forward to taste a few of the Indian dishes that are famous back in Turkey.
What do you think differentiates the Turkish cuisine from other world cuisines?
According to me, Chinese and Italian cuisines qualify as world cuisine as they are readily available in various parts of the world. Turks are purists in their culinary taste; the dishes are supposed to bring out the flavour of the main ingredient rather than hiding it behind sauces or spices.
What do you think is the most essential ingredient of Turkish cuisine?
In my opinion, Olive oil is the most essential ingredient of Turkish cuisine. Olives are locally grown in the country due to its European influence and is not just used for cooking but also as a preservative. The mezze also is known as olive oil dishes because of the extensive use of olive oil.
What is your favourite Turkish dish/meal?
My favourite meal of the day is dinner and I like Hünkarbeğendi as it is a dish that I created.
What is your favourite Indian dish?
Have not been able to try too much of Indian cuisine during this period, however look forward to trying the regional favorites over the weekend.
Where or from whom do you get your inspiration?
I feel my mother is the driving force and I am inspired by her cooking. I feel that her cooking reflects her passion for food.
Do you have a dish that you created? Could you share the recipe?
I created the Hünkarbeğendi at Grand Hyatt Istanbul which is Lamb stew with cheese-aubergine puree.
The recipe is as below.
Hünkarbeğendi (Serves 4 people)
Lamb stew with cheese-aubergine puree
500g boneless lamb shoulder, cubed
100 g Butter
150 g Tomato blanched, peeled and cubed
150 ml Lemon juice
150 ml whole milk
50g Kasar cheese grated (substitute with mozzarella)
Salt, pepper, mint leaves
Heat the meat with shredded onion and 50g butter in a covered pan; allow the liquid form the meat to evaporate. Add the tomato, a little salt and pepper and leave to boil for 5 minutes. Add 150 ml of hot water and cook covered for about 45 minutes. In the meantime bake the aubergine in the oven for about one hour on 200 Celsius. Remove the blackened skin and leave in a bath of 150 ml of lemon juice mixed with cold water for about 10 minutes, then press the liquid out cut the pips away and mash the aubergines. Fry the flour with 25 g butter for 2-3 minutes, add the milk drop by drop and mash the aubergines. Leave to cook for 8 minutes then remove from fire and add the grated cheese, the rest of the butter and adjust the salt and pepper. Heat the puree for another 7 minutes in a baine marie. Portion the puree on the plate, make a hole in each serving and fill with the stew. Garnish with mint leaves and serve.