With an understanding of the “hard work” it takes to work in a kitchen, classically trained chef Didem Senol combines her experience gained in New York at the French Culinary Institute and Eleven Madison Park restaurant, with the ingredients of her home: Istanbul. She explains how seasonality and locality drive her menus in an exciting union between East and West …
Your restaurant Lokanta Maya changes its menu everyday: how do you choose which dishes to serve? What are the criteria for the raw ingredients?
We change some of the dishes daily, some dishes weekly and some monthly depending on what ingredients we find in market places and fish markets. When I come up with a dish, the most important thing is seasonality and local ingredients. I get inspired by my childhood, from Istanbul street food and by some traditional Anatolian dishes.
Istanbul is uniquely located as the bridge between East and West. Is this cultural mix reflected in your food?
I think so… For dinner we serve mezes, which are small dishes to share. The ideas about the mezes come from different regions of Turkey, sometimes from the Black Sea, often from the Aegean coast and occasionally from the southern regions. The ingredients come from all over Turkey. I think my food reflects both East and West; local ingredients cooked with western techniques.
You are going to feature in the Taste Workshop “The Bosphorus, Between Tradition and Modernity.” Which traditions have influenced you? And how are you inspired to modernize them?
The people of Istanbul have cooked fish for many years. They have salted fish, made soups with it and made use of fish roe. The many different entities that have shared this city have inspired us differently. Today in our kitchens we cook some old recipes with a twist. For example we add bergamot powder to marinated fish, and we serve cured fish with citrus and herb salads.
You say that bonito is the symbol of the Bosphorus? Can you tell us the story of how this came about?
In Byzantium [the city now known as Istanbul] the bonito was the symbol of money. There was so much fish that they could catch it with their hands. It was their main food. In Ottoman times, when we look at some of the writings, we see how much they valued bonito. Seraglio Point, which is the home to Topkapi Palace, was the place to fish as well as the whole of the Bosphorus. Even today fishing is allowed in the Bosphorus.
Although Didem admits that fishing in the Bosphorus is not as prominent as it once was, she explains that it still plays an important role for the local populations and cuisine. As such, during her Taste Workshop, she’ll be focusing on bonito. What’s more she plans to serve marinated bonito, and she may even delight us with pilaki – a traditional meze dish cooked in a sauce made from onion, garlic, carrot, potato, tomato, sugar and olive oil.
Article by Jonathan Moody