The first part of this post went over the brilliant innovators, chefs, good denizens that spoke to us during the morning session. Below is our roundup of Yedi Istanbul’s afternoon speakers. Like the first half of the day, the second was enlightening, sometimes confusing, but certainly humbling.
As we shuffled back in from a wonderful – but, really – lunch provided by the Yedi team, we were surprised to learn that the next segment had little to do with food. Hürriyet journalist Melis Alphan conducted an interview with Deniz Ova, a long time organiser at Istanbul Kültür Sanat Vakfı (İKSV, İstanbul Arts and Culture Foundation). Ova’s career is impressive within and outside of the arts scene. This young woman has worked several festivals with the foundation as well as organising an international cooperation between the Turkish pavilion at the Venice Biennale and local organisers. More recently, she was appointed director of the 2013 Istanbul Design Biennale.
Impressive? Very. But both women walked off stage leaving the audience somewhat puzzled. We could argue that the arts feeds the soul. And the IKSV, in fact, started as a charitable foundation – giving back to society. And, yet, many of us were wondering how these initiatives and organisations played into the day’s themes.
Scottish chef Jock Zonfrillo is better known for his work at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the United Kingdom. But, as he explained, it was his sabbatical year in Australia that lit a fuse of questions. The search and exploration of those answers would eventually shape the rest of his work.
“What is Australian culinary culture?”
When he asked, “What is Australian culinary culture?” few responded with any answers, except for the aboriginal communities. During his research Zonfrillo began to document all the ingredients used – ingredients that would otherwise never enter a professional kitchen. In 2013, Zonfrillo opened his restaurant Orana as a vehicle to deliver and protect the many tastes of Aboriginal culinary culture. Since then, Zonfrillo and his team have created a database of all these tastes, ingredients, plants, and so on and is looking to share it with the public. Most of these items occur naturally in Australia and thus are not only abundant, but also sustainable.
This talk is especially interesting when you apply to it other regions that were at the mercy of colonial and imperial powers. The United States and Canada are just two of many countries that persecuted and attempted to essentially efface native peoples. And even though it’s been accepted and admitted in history books, detrimental treatment of these peoples continues on a systematic level. So that if we were to apply the philosophies at Orana Foundation to other regions, perhaps it would draw attention to cultures that have evidently not died out (as dominant cultures would have us assume).
If it hasn’t already, in the last couple of years Defne Koryürek’s name grew synonymous with Turkey’s participation in the Slow Food movement, often referred to as Fikir Sahibi Damaklar (loosely translated as sophisticated palates or thoughtful tastes). Her efforts initiating the Lüfer Koruma Timi (Blue Fish Protection Team) won the respect of many. The lüfer is a fish native to Istanbul and quickly being fished out. Instead of enforcing a broad-spectrum ban on fishing, Koryürek took a more thoughtful approach to the issue. After all, fish and fishing play a large role in Istanbul’s current and historical identity. Her and her team encouraged that the fish should only be caught after they have grown longer than some 25 cm (approx. 10”). Thus, giving the fish a chance to mate and procreate. More recently, Koryürek has been campaigning with the Marul Bayramı (Lettuce Festival). There, she promotes different and forgotten breeds of delicious leafy green lettuce that was once grown along the ancient land walls of Istanbul. What’s more, while she was talking about these species of greens, a bag full of those seeds was making its way across the room. There, for the taking.
Throughout her very charismatic talk, Defne Koryürek kept going back to several key items that truly reflected the essence of this day. The first item was that Istanbul may be an urban city, but it is also a geography. And, like any other geography it, and all that it is made up of, must be respected and nurtured.
Venezuelan born Correa walked on stage with a simple question, “What is a chef?” A chef, she answered, can certainly be a cook, but they must also push their own understanding of food and its preparation. A chef improves society through gastronomy. As one of the project managers for the world-renowned Basque Culinary Center (BCC), Correa discussed the school’s World Prize. The award is given to a chef who is redefining the professional role of a chef and whose culinary work can be felt “beyond the kitchen.” After the jury, a group of specialists and academics who are members of the International Council of the BCC, narrow their nominations down to 20 candidates, they discuss, deliberate, debate, fight and eventually elect a winner. Oh, and the prize itself? 100,000 euros.
Correa has been working in the field for over ten years as a journalist and food editor. She has also written a book on the Caracas while deeply having been involved with the Mexican food congress. She explained that in all her experience, she has yet to see a Turkish chef be nominated for the prize – and it is clear that it is not because there is a lack of talent.
She ended her talk with another question, “Who would you nominate for World Prize?” Surprisingly, nearly the entire audience agreed that Neolokal’s Maksut Aşkar should be nominated.
Maybe we weren’t completely unbiased. Sasha Correa’s talk immediately followed lunch where Maksut and his mother were some among many serving foods from the seven regions of Turkey. But more on that later.
After listening to only a couple of words, you’ll understand that Ebru Barybara is a force to be reckoned with. Baybara is the third child from a Mardin family, but grew up and studied in Istanbul. By 2000, however, Baybara had separated from her husband and returned to Mardin where she established what would be one of the city’s first tourist organizations: Cercis Murat Konağı. Still running, the organisation renovated and restored a former 19th century family home. It is primarily a restaurant serving traditional Mardin food, offering spaces for events and parties. To be clear, Mardin is not Istanbul. So when a separated woman, works as a restaurateur, and serving alcohol, it does not go unnoticed. Baybara started hiring women from who needed employment, teaching them food preparation and service. The organization grew with time and more women were gaining a degree of independence through their work. But, when tourism came to a close standstill in 2015, Baybara set up Hayatim Yenibahar, literally my life is a new spring. What first started as Baybara and five other women making food and selling it, eventually grew to include some 20 more women, and then more. As the initiative grew popular, Baybara started working with the mayor of Urfa, one of the more conservative places in Turkey. While the mayor’s wife set up a support center for women in the area, Baybara attracted women from the camps and taught them how to cook.
Today these women have things to do and somewhere to go to almost everyday. In fact, some are even invited to Zorlu Center’s Eataly to run and teach workshops on Mardin food.
Ebru Baybara finished by saying these women are ready to work, but not necessarily for the money. They are creating livelihoods for themselves and re-establishing legacies.
Alberto Crisci is best known for his rehabilitating initiatives within prisons throughout the United Kingdom, known as The Clink. The program targets inmates with six to 18 months remaining on the sentence. The program’s five steps (recruitment, training, support, employment, and mentoring) provide each participant with the knowledge and training to work in the hospitality industry. Each inmate who completes the program receives a NVQ accreditation in cleaning, food preparation, and service. The real aim of the program, it seems, has a greater consequence. Preparing an inmate for the workforce outside of prison has shown that inmates stand a greater chance at getting a job (and keeping it). The program also aims to reduce any kind of re-offence and to truly integrate an inmate back into society.
Crisci alongside Finlay Scott and Kevin McGrath (a businessman and the High Sherriff of Great London, respectfully), founded The Clink’s initiatives in 2009. The operation has garnered international attention and respect. It has won more than several awards and has expanded to Cardiff, Whales. In 2014, the women’s prison at Styal was included in the operation. And more recently, The Clink’s operations have expended to catering.
By incorporating the government, yes, things may become more bureaucratic but the initiative, the effort and, well, the open-mindedness weaved itself into the system. The philosophy and dynamic behind The Clink may not necessarily be new, but it is setting an example for how food industries can better ingrate themselves within society. Prison is essentially (most) societies’ tool to punish an offender. But it is also the instrument that is supposed to rehabilitate and re-integrate said offender into society. And, that is precisely what Crisci has done. In the UK, 50% of released inmates re-offend, while only 12% of those re-offenders have graduated from the program.
If you’ve ever heard the name Ayşe Tükrükçü, it was probably about her devastating story, her soup operation or both. In fact, most interviews and write-ups about Tükrükçü undoubtedly include her life story. While difficult, it is important to remember her story to realize that such events are not reserved for the realm of Turkish films and, more importantly, because it shows her perseverance.
Tükrükçü’s was born in Gaziantep. While her parents lived in Germany she stayed with aunts, uncles and her grandparents. Unfortunately, her childhood was violently cut short by her uncle. She tried to live with her parents in Germany, only to be shipped back to Turkey to enter the care child services. After she married, she was sold into prostitution bouncing from one brothel to another. After so many years, she escaped that life when one of her clients proposed to her. But when that marriage also ended, she vowed never to return to the life she had. She worked as a dishwasher, a caregiver, and even went without a roof for four months, finding some solace in hospital emergency waiting rooms.
Eventually, she started volunteering at the Şefkat-Der foundation, a shelter for the homeless. There she developed Çorbada Tuzun Olsun (literally, let there be salt in the soup). The name is a play on the idiom “to have a stake in something,” here it is to have a stake in soup. At its most basic, Tükrükçü developed a mobile soup kitchen. Night after night, she and other volunteers headed out to the hidden corners of Beyoğlu pouring soup for the homeless. At its most complicated, the soup distribution is a reflection of our strength and the ability to move on with dignity and grace.
Tükrükçü walked on stage to humbly accept a standing ovation. After facetiously calling out a certain fine dining chef in the audience, she proudly announced that her operation has spilled over into eight over cities.
As the audience sat quietly, watching famed chef Bottura walk on stage, we anticipated a talk on his work with Food for Soul. The organization is Bottura’s non-profit operation that acts as a research center to reduce food waste as well as a vehicle to raise funds for future projects. One such project was the community kitchen Refettorio Gastromotiva, loosely based on Food for Soul’s first project, in Milan. Now the Reffettorio works as a social restaurant, where diners can buy one lunch and have dinner paid for. But instead of talking methods, numbers and curriculum vitae, Bottura regaled his audience with his adventures opening his Rio de Janeiro Refettorio Gastromovia. He told us his stories and, more importantly, the lessons he learnt from them.
Immediately before walking off stage, Bottura flipped to his next slide. It was a picture of his arms, with Bottura pulling up just enough of his sleeve to reveal his latest tattoo. He explained, after the scrambling madness of the Refettorio, after walking past the gun-holstering children of Rio de Janeiro and after seeing a woman walk through the most bullet-riddled parts of the city just to serve him and her guests food, he had to get something that would be a constant reminder of this entire experience. Naturally, he got a tattoo. But one whose message is appropriate for just about any occasion in life and most certainly resonated in each talk. The tattoo? “NO MORE EXCUSES”