My first dinner at Abracadabra was kind of an impromptu sweaty dizzying affair. Fueled by jet lag, thrown in to the arena with no language skills, I was even more determined to succeed. Being the guest in another chef’s kitchen made me uncomfortable, but my skills were going to be tested. Dilara introduced me to her chef de cuisine, Harun Yüce, who seemed amiable enough. With both of us sharing sign language, I pointed to things, gestured, grabbed a cooks knife and cutting board, in between slapping a menu together with Dilara, pairing native product with some of my transatlantic medicine bag of goodies which I had brought along to play with.
The other cooks stared at me, the strange guest chef pulling out a bag of black rice (wild rice) and strange grain (Quinoa), as well as some non-native jarred condiments for heat: Yuzu kosho from Japan, chipotle chilies, Mexican pickled jalapeño’s, and some cranberries, which to my surprise had already been introduced to Turkey. When Dilara asked me what I would make for my evening specials, my eyes spontaneously moved over to a huge octopus cooked in wine. Right then I decided to marry it with some salad and a simple dressing of yuzu kosho, soy, yuzu juice and a bit of oil combined into a vinaigrette. Earlier at the market, we had seen some corn meal, so I suggested some polenta frites to go with a beautiful sea bass. Grilled, it would be accompanied with baby eggplant studded and baked with tomato, onions, Turkish thyme, garlic and olive oil. Wanting to wow that night’s crowd, we added another course of wild rice, quinoa, cranberry and chicken salad, the ultimate North American mix of grains and greens. We also decided to add in some free range chicken that Dilara thought would make a nice main salad, topped with a few slices of avocado on top. For dessert I used the figs cut in half and baked with some frangipane for dessert. Dilara was happy. She loved it!
So I scurried about, moving from one side to the next of the cramped kitchen, cooking and getting my mise’en place set. Finally the crowd started arriving. Orders were called. Just as I was showing my salad man how to get the appetizers together, Dilara told me I had already several fish on order. Forget names by faces, get the food out , appetizers and fish! Wiggling through to the other side of the line to the grill station, I got my fish orders portioned, surprising Dilara and the chef with their heft. Turkish portions are smaller than the New York club specials I usually serve.
And then the fish orders kept coming, as well as the other specials I had put on the menu. Honestly, I was thrilled to have sold out. Throughout the evening, all the staff, including the front of the house, proved eager to assist, and seemed interested to taste everything me and Dilara had prepared. Personally, I had become interested by the talents of one staff member, Gökhan, who was turning out a beautiful pide (bread), baked fresh along with a whole wheat and a corn bread which looked a bit more like a muffin.
Realizing my time here would be way too short, I decided to wake up early. Dilara told me to wake her, up too, but that night I decided to go it alone. Let her get some time with her family, I thought. It would be interesting for me to fend for myself in her kitchen. Before going to sleep, I tried to familiarize myself a bit with the kitchen staff, putting faces with names, not as easy I thought as I would find out the next day!