Under the watchful gaze of Murat the Mezze chef!
Excited by my first dinner cooked for Abracadabra, I wanted something with more verve for the next chance “at bat.” Besides, Dilara had my name plastered across the chalkboard stationed outside the entrance. I couldn’t let her down. So I put on my Provençale hat, a tip to my mother’s origins, but also the vicinity of the Mediterranean.
Bouillabaisse or fish soup was stirring my palette, inspired by Istanbul’s sun-drenched climate. So I took the bass bones saved from the previous evening and set about making my fish soup. For an appetizer I had thought of a classic with a nod to Constantinople. My initial title for it (ready for grand ambition or just pretension?) “Theodosius’s legume a’ la Grecque.” I don’t know, would that be over-the-top gauche or, given that we were in Turkey, not Greece, politically incorrect? But Dilara told me to go for it.
While I was tourneing zucchini, I noticed an intense expression on Dilara’s face. ” Is this all too much” I asked? ” She shook her head. “No, no. It’s great, yella!” she said. Harun the chef, bless his soul, had ordered me some sardines. Actually I wanted anchovies but didn’t know what they were called in Turkish! Regardless, Haroun found me magnificent specimens, gutted reluctantly by the grill man. “Should I do all of them?” he asked wincing. I winked and tapped his belly, “do them all!” No mercy from this chef!
Dilara’s market buyer
Earlier I had spied the beautiful variety of peppers in the baskets brought by Dilara’s market man. The appetizer would be grilled sardines with Basques styled peppers and fried parsley to garnish with a drizzle of Turkish olive oil. Ahhh, these ingredients native to Turkey, such a romance, indeed marriage, between earth and sea. In celebration, dessert would be a strawberry red wine soup with Bugnes Lyonnaise, something I remembered Jean Michel made for a lunch at restaurant Raphael for Beaujolais wine maker George De Beouf).
With Dilara and her salad man in tow, both jotting down notes,I rallied towards completing this fairly simple menu, setting up my fish and my stations. Then we held a meeting with the wait staff to describe the menu, as the cooks finished their prep. When people mounted the spiral staircase, Dilara announced that there were some critics from important newspapers who wanted to try my tasting menu. Yikes! I set about sending out three of everything when Dilara, kind of excitedly, came in the kitchen and asked me to make something special. “What do you have?” I asked looking around to answer my own question. Beef fillet! No problem. Pan roasting them, I sliced them and made a soft polenta (Dilara’s favorite) with an herb sauce, along with grilled scallions and roasted cherry tomatoes.
The bouillabaisse was steadily getting eaten. Indeed, as Dilara spooned each with rouille on croutons, intermittently she would eat one or two for herself. Like watching a curious kid liberated to a candy shop.
Chef Harun Yüce and Murat Ceylan
Things got only busier, and then Dilara started to get telephone calls, stopping to tell me that her business partner was downstairs. His name is Mike Norman, and he’s a South African chef who has the most popular night Club and restaurant in Istanbul. Called “360,” its name come from an amazing view over all points across Istanbul’s skyline. When he came in, Dilara offered him some soup, and I joined them for a chat at the bar. Apparently, moments after calling Dilara, he left his i-Phone in a cab. The reason it’s worth mentioning is a bit later, the cab driver showed up with it. A good omen. Mike relaxed and settled into enjoying his soup.
And then the evening moved to a close. I sent Dilara home, as she had stayed out the night before with her former schoolmates. Tomorrow, she promised, we would go check out Mike’s place, enjoying some of the Istanbul nightlife in the Beyoğlu district, maybe catch a listen to Siyasiyabend if we bump into them.