Meet Turkey's Top Chef Hande Bozdoğan
While in Turkey, one must think outside the kebab
Turkish culinary guru Hande Bozdoğan’s accomplishments range from successful chef, author and Istanbul Culinary Institute founder to doughnutista (she opened 12 Dunkin' Donuts franchises in the country).
The Institute, founded in 2008, has steadily gained a student body — offering professional culinary training in cooking, pastry, and restaurant management in addition to week-long workshops tailored for tourists visiting the country. Yes, if you are into food, you should visit the country.
During a break from her busy schedule we caught up with Bozdoğan to chat about street food, Ottoman cuisine and thinking outside the kebab.
What did you hope to accomplish by founding the Istanbul Culinary Institute?
The chef school program is for people who want to become professional chefs. During their training, and under the supervision of the chef instructors, students prepare the food for the in-house restaurant [Enstitü]. The idea is to practice and cook as many different dishes as possible, based on what is in season.
What are your workshops like for amateur cooks visiting Istanbul?
We have amateur workshops that take place every evening featuring almost every cuisine in the world. We feature everything from specialized pastry to Ottoman and Indian cuisine. During the summer months we organize one or two week-long course focusing on something different every day.
What are common misconceptions about Turkish cuisine?
Turkish cuisine is not just kebab and gyros! The cuisine here is regional and varies greatly from one place to another. I don’t see this diversity represented outside Turkey. There needs to be effort and encouragement, but mostly people coming from those regions with with professional experience.
What exactly is Ottoman cuisine?
Ottoman cuisine is a combination of cuisines from a huge territory. At one point, the Ottoman empire spanned parts of modern day Europe, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. So it combines all those different cultures. Today’s contemporary Turkish cuisine is a reflection of all those different cultures combined and modernized.
Turkey is also known for its street food. What are some of your favorites?
Street food in Turkey is complex and sophisticated. For example, it’s very typical to see a street vendor pushing his cart selling rice with chickpeas with shredded chicken on top. The same thing goes for fried mussels or stuffed mussels, or sheep’s head. A lot of seasonal, interesting items you would not expect to see on the street.
Speaking of seasonality, what role, if any, does the school play in ecological responsibility and sustainable agriculture?
The integrity of the ingredients is key to us. We have a farm about three hour away from the Institute, where we grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. There are over five hundred fruit trees from cherries to figs, prunes and apricots. We don’t buy anything frozen or canned, that is our philosophy.
What is your favorite non-Turkish cuisine?
I love pasta and tomatoes, so I'm going to go with Italian.
What is the best non-Turkish restaurant you’ve visited in the past year?
Oh, that’s a very difficult question, but probably Chef Jason Atherton’s London restaurant Pollen Street Social. It’s a great restaurant with wonderful food and an excellent bar.
Be sure to check out our guide to Eating and Drinking in Turkey.
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