November 15, 2013

Interview with Director Chris Morris

Chris Morris, The Most Hated Man in Britain™ according to The Sunday Times, is the fearless Jack-of-All-Trades whose satires have kept Britain laughing since the late 1980s. E. Zeynep Güler-Tuck chats with him about Four Lions, his debut film project, which will screen at this year’s !f Istanbul Film Festival

When did the Four Lions project begin and where did the risky concept of humanizing extremists come from? What kind of research goes into a project like this? Why were bringing elements of humour to the project important to you?
I was looking into the subject already. What you get from the media is thin, and I was reading about a serious subject but kept finding examples of events that were funny and ridiculous, like a Canadian trying to assassinate the Canadian prime minister, then forgetting who the prime minister was; or terrorists creating a device that would protect them from explosions but making the extension only 10 feet long; or extremists trying to turn fizzy drinks into bombs on airplanes. There was this one guy who wanted to hide a bomb in a hole in the ground and police found a Google search on his computer on “how to dig a hole.” If you read about anything; an armed police unit; or a bunch of guys in the army; or a football team, you’ll come across the same kind of thing. People make mistakes and get into arguments, even those in a Jihadi group. It feels like a revelation. it felt like one to me. It’s a gift if you are interested in making something funny; it’s not an abstract or a fantasy. Your limited understanding of religious, cultural and political backgrounds increases so that you understand the area enough. Every step you take serves up a chunk of knowledge to base jokes on. [Making this film] was an organic progression.

Has Four Lions been screened in other Muslim countries, or will Turkey be the first? Have you been receiving any flak from the Muslim world regarding the radical implications of this film?
No flak. It’s geared to Muslim audiences in places like Britain, since there are lots [of Muslims] in Britain. It played the longest in strongly Muslim cities. They enjoyed it and gravitated toward it. I spent 3-4 years meeting with Muslims [in the UK] and overseas. [Muslims] understand the jokes. It plays in Pakistan; it’s selling like hotcakes in Karatchi. It was presented in Islamabad and it didn’t bother them that we hadn’t released it there. A friend in Pakistan played it for his buddies and they were doing the raps from the movie. We bothered to look into the subject properly. If you bothered to get it right, [Muslims] recognize people that they know, even if it’s a satire. A friend of mine does a satire show in Westminster and the politicians working there love it. You’ve done a few current affairs show spoofs and pranks. On your "Brass Eye" show, you convinced celebrities and politicians to back campaigns and generate awareness for fake social issues.

What was your favourite “fake public awareness” prank that you pulled to-date?
I don’t have a favourite; it didn’t seem to me to be any other response, when people make statements for the wrong reasons and thus inflame public opinion for their own benefits... Others will [speak out] with better motivations, but to make a goodhearted plea is a problem. Any kneejerk issue works in the same way. I think the fun thing is challenging reality to catch people. You dream up something that no one will fall for, in the full fear of failure, and if you pull it off, you surprise yourself and others. Some places we went were really dangerous, where, if they had found out it was a joke, we would’ve been toast. Other places had to do with sheer silliness, like the conflict of electricity falling out of wires. This [convinced people] to complain about western countries abusing third world countries by using the wrong kind of energy that would fall out of the wires and onto people’s heads, making them look like an 18th version of themselves. You can fool people at all sorts of things. When I was a student, I would walk around with a tape recorder and put non-existent ideas to [passersby]. I’d say, “What do you think about slope velocity, should it be higher or lower?” And people would respond, “I think it’s dangerous, it should be lower.” By choosing something abstract that sounds real, I challenge things that don’t exist, like hairball disasters. It’s like you’re finding out some missing elements of the human brain. We heard about your success at Sundance Film Fest – being shortlisted for the World Cinema Narrative prize and all. It was great but scary, since Sundance was the first public airing in the U.S.

We’re ecstatic that Four Lions is being screened as part of the 2011 !f Istanbul Film Festival. Have you ever been to Istanbul? What are you looking forward to doing and seeing while you’re here?
I haven’t been there since 1981. I am very much looking forward to it. Galata Bridge was a pontoon and I would go down there for breakfast and eat fish that was flung right out

of the water into my mouth. It’s such an exciting place! I’ll be fascinated to hear what sorts of questions people have in Turkey, since the film discusses 2nd -3rd generation British Pakistanis. I think there’ll be a Saturday night multiplex screening that will be connected to various cinemas across the country. I’m really looking forward to it!

*Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Time Out Istanbul in English. 

October 9, 2012

The kebap connection

If you feel like the world has been taken over by the vegan revolution, with soy hamburgers, veggie steaks and lacto-vegetarian sundaes to send all the cows running, you’ve come to the right city! Istanbul boasts the widest selection of kebap varieties from all over the country to help you make your own personal kebap connection. E. Zeynep Güler-Tuck
Are you a big fan of lamb? Istanbul’s got it. Fancy some eggplant with your meat? No problem! How about saucy beef on an inviting bed of pureed potatoes? Welcome home! For all you hot-blooded meat lovers, Istanbul is the perfect meat market! This is your chance to sink your teeth into some delicious red meat and fall for the dish of your dreams.

We’ve listed the city’s 10 most beloved kebap and the best places to plan your perfect date with them.

Tas kebabı
Hometown: Anatolia
Status update: A daily, reliable favourite for all seasons
Appearance: This saucy stew, hence the name "tas," which means "bowl," is usually made with succulent lamb’s meat, though it’s also been known to be prepared with beef. Ideally, the meat for this what-you-see-is-what-you-get dish is first marinated in milk, rosemary and onions. These deliciously marinated cubes are then joined in a saucepan by spices of all kinds and mixed with tomatoes, onions, garlic, sugar and white wine. When you first set eyes on this delectable dish, it’ll likely be sitting beside a bed of white rice or pureed potatoes
Interested in: Someone who will appreciate this Ottoman dish for its multitude of spices, including rosemary, bay leaves, cinnamon, oregano, parsley and cloves
Favourite hangout: Kanaat Lokantası, (0216) 341 54 44. Selmanipak Caddesi 25, Üsküdar

Patlıcan kebabı
Hometown: Southeast Turkey
Status update: Where tender eggplant and succulent beef collide
Appearance: Rather than the cut-up meat variety, this kebap introduces ground beef or lamb to the table. First, eggplant is divided up into pieces, and placed between each gap is a ball of seasoned ground beef. The bond of these two ingredients flourishes as the two cook together in perfect harmony and are then served on a large platter accompanied by rice, potatoes, veggies, or all of the above.

Interested in: The unconventional kebap eater who likes to mix and match
Favourite hangout: Develi Restaurant,, with numerous branches in the Samatya, Kalamış, Etiler, Marin, Ataşehir, Florya and Eminönü districts

Adana kebap
Hometown: Eastern Turkish Mediterranean
Status update: Hot and spicy – what more could you ask for?
Appearance: Hand-minced meat (from lamb and tail fat) is carefully seasoned with Adana’s finest spices, mounted on a skewer and then barbequed over an open grill of charcoal embers. It is said that the kıyma kebap, which is what this dish is called in Adana, is not meant to be spicy, but its evolution into the Istanbul meat market led to its acquisition of this title and reputation. If you prefer to sit down and savour this dish at a restaurant, this kebap will be accompanied by roasted vegetables like tomatoes and peppers and laid ever-so-carefully over pide (flatbread) for your enjoyment. For those of you who might like to sample this tasty snack on the go, a dürüm version (wrapped in tortilla and stuffed with veggies) is also an option.
Interested in: A daring partner who lives on the spicy side of life
Favourite Hangout: Adana Özasmaaltı Kebap, (0216) 380 17 10, Bağdat Caddesi 535/A, Alt Bostancı, Kadıköy

Testi kebabı
Hometown: Central Anatolia and the Western Black Sea Region
Status update: Well worth the wait
Appearance: Feast your eyes on this hot dish cooked in a clay pot with onions, tomatoes, potatoes, cumin, pepper and lots of butter. This kebap is normally made out of small-diced goat meat, with flour and water added to give it that thick, rich texture
Interested in: A patient patron who is willing to call in 3-4 hours ahead to place an order for this culinary masterpiece
Favourite hangout: Hamdi Restaurant, (0212) 528 03 90, Tahmis Caddesi, Kalçın Sokak 17, Eminönü

İskender kebap 
Hometown: Bursa region
Status update: King of the kebap
Appearance: Imagine a beautifully set table and, sitting in the middle, a long oval dish with warm pide doused in hot butter cradling thinly sliced, juicy leaves of beef covered in a rich tomato sauce, topped with some more savoury butter. Not just any beef is used for this dish; the meat from rams that feed on herbs from the hills of Mount Uludağ in the Bursa region are especially chosen for this masterful meal. When life gets you down, this is one of the edible wonders reminding you that there is a heaven (whether above or on this earth is up to you). With some yogurt on the side to cool off this hot and steamy number, İskender is proof that life just doesn’t get better than this
Interested in: A bold and beautiful diner who won’t shy away from its gregarious presence among others in the meat market
Favourite hangout: Hacıbey – Bursa Kebapçısı, (0212) 231 71 34, Teşvikiye Caddesi 8/B, Teşvikiye, Nişantaşı

Urfa kebap
Hometown: Southeast Anatolia
Status update: Try this hunk of juicy meat for a change
Appearance: Also prepared on a skewer, don’t just cast this dish aside for being the "plain, boring and spice-free" cousin of Adana kebap, Urfa locals (called "Urfalı") claim that their kebap is the original and boast that theirs is the best way to prepare and eat this slab of moist beef
Interested in: A carnivore who will appreciate the Urfa for what it is
Favourite hangout: Çiya Kebap, (0216) 336 30 13, Caferağa Mahallesi, Güneşlibahçe Sokak 48/B, Kadıköy

Beyti kebap
Hometown: All over Turkey
Status update: Wrapped and ready to go!
Appearance: This is not just any minced-meat kebap. This enigmatic kebap, grilled on a skewer, is cloaked in a thin layer of lavaş (thin flatbread). The zesty combination of coriander, cumin, black pepper, salt, hot pepper flakes, onion, tomato and parsley are what make this dish completely irresistible. Not to mention the balance of its must-have toppings, piping hot tomato sauce and fresh creamy yogurt.
Interested in: That special someone who enjoys a bit of mystery and intrigue
Favourite hangout: Han Restaurant, (0216) 302 19 19, Bağdat Caddesi, 353, Şaşkınbakkal, Kadıköy

Fıstık kebap
Hometown: Southeast Turkey
Status update: One bite is all it takes...
Appearance: Every so often a kebap comes along that looks and feels like your run-of-the-mill kebap but, upon closer examination, manages to set itself apart from all the rest. Could fıstık kebap be that knight in shining armour to wash the boring old memory of those regular kebap away? Will this special kebap decorate your food fantasies in years to come? If minced meat joined by onions, chilli peppers, sweet red peppers, parsley and spices, coated with shavings or slices of roasted pistachio nuts and cooked over a grill, get your heart racing, this is definitely the dish for you.
Interested in: A fan devoted to the nutty goodness of this delectable and original dish
Favourite hangout: Fıstık Kebap, (0212) 257 11 23, 1. Cadde 40 (across from the pier), Arnavutköy

Çöp şiş kebap
Hometown: All over Turkey
Status update: A cure for the common 4 a.m. hunger attack or weekend picnic Appearance: Tiny bite-sized chunks of tender beef, all lined up in perfect succession on a metal skewer, grilled over an open fire and carefully placed in a pide bun with shredded lettuce, carrots, cabbage and onions make up this delicious after-hours snack. However, the versatility of this "snack" is what makes it one of the most popular hot-weather BBQ treats. Take a whiff of this meat being grilled on portable hibachis at any seaside park along the Bosphorus on warm autumn evenings and weekends.
Interested in: A chameleon-at-heart who is comfortable at any occasion
Favourite hangout: Günaydın Et, (0212) 287 82 35, Nispetiye Caddesi 104/F, Etiler, Beşiktaş

Kuyu kebabı
Hometown: The Black Sea region
Status update: So famous that there was a Kuyu Kebap Festival held in the Black Sea region this summer
Appearance: In English, "kuyu" means "well" or "pit." This kebap is named after the method in which it is cooked – suspended down a well or pit of fire. Locals of the town of Taşköprü in Kastamonu call it "perive," while the inhabitants of Siirt call their version "büryan kebabı." What makes this dish so special is that it is made from the meat of lambs that graze in the mountains. The tender meat is then sliced off and served with rice or pide.
Interested in: That mysterious someone who will adore its charming smoky taste – which it owes to the evergreen branches added to the fire during the cooking process
Favourite hangout: Meşhur Hamdi Usta’nın Yeri, (0212) 682 05 05, on Terkos Yolu in Arnavutköy

Other notable mentions that are also worth of any kebap connoisseur’s while:

Döner kebap (the most common kebap, found on any street corner – just keep an eye out for a huge slab of meat rotating in front of a vertical grill), tandır kebap (made from lamb shank), tencere kebabı (cooked in a pot), tavuk kebabı (chicken kebap), Ali Nazik kebabı (sizzling beef on a bed of yogurt and eggplant puree), Erzurum cağ kebabı (a hardcore meat lover’s dream that looks like a döner grilled horizontally), Topkapı kebabı (a palatial delicacy), tantuni kebap (another great 4 a.m. snack), çiftlik kebabı (a rustic kebap), Bolu orman kebabı (Bolu forest kebap) and yoğurtlu kebap (kebap with yogurt).

*Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Time Out Istanbul in English.

September 19, 2012

JCK Las Vegas 2012 review

The newest collections and product lines pushed the boundaries of innovation and ingenuity at this year's JCK Las Vegas jewellery and watch show
By E.Z. Guler-Tuck

Viva all things colourful, bright and shiny—especially Las Vegas! The opening of the LUXURY booths on May 29 kicked off this year’s JCK Las Vegas Show*, and all the watch and jewellery brands were out strutting their stuff. This year’s show saw the newest collections and product lines from more than 2,500 eager exhibitors that pushed the boundaries of innovation and ingenuity in jewellery and watch design. The record-breaking 21 per cent increase in show attendance was evidence that through economic ups and downs, luxury has prevailed.
In addition to Pamela Anderson and Brooke Burke, Canadian Natalie Glebova—former Miss Universe—joined the roster of celebrity brand ambassadors, as she represented Canadian Ice diamonds with style and class.

A legacy
Bringing Armenian jewellers from all around the world together, the Armenian Jewellers Association (AJA), with a strong Canadian constituent, continued a tradition of their own, with an Armenian pavilion at JCK for the second year in a row, and their fifth annual cocktail reception.

Material girl
While retailers swear by “location, location, location,” the fearless designers at this year’s
JCK propagated “material, material, material.” A rave of rhodium plating and the incorporation of a selection of nature-inspired motifs such as shells, animal prints, bamboo and feathers, as well as Italian rubber, bakelite (an early form of plastic) and blackened sterling silver were prevalent.

“During the process of creating my latest collections, I wanted to feel connected with
something that was earth-bound, and evocative of volcanic ash and lava solidification, as
well as the ancient ruins of my native Rome. The blackened sterling silver inspired that
connection for me,” says Emanuela Duca, designer of Emanuela Duca New York.

One-of-a-kind handcrafted mixtures of materials broke down taboos in jewellery-making, where steel mingled with silver, whites mingled with rose gold, and precious gemstones
were thrown in for colour and spice.

In addition to materials, texture also played a starring role in design this year. The sleek, smooth feel of jewellery, and especially watches, was replaced by three-dimensional, faceted surfaces, a highlight of one of PANDORA’s new collections.

Colour me yellow
Speaking of colour, this year’s show was definitely colour-coded, flaunting a kaleidoscope of
precious gemstones from all around the world, set into a luxurious load of gold, silver and even steel collections.

In addition to topaz, garnet, amethyst, peridot and tourmaline, it was yellow gemstones that stole the show. Especially in diamonds, yellow stood out as the colour of the year.

Yellow was also prevalent in gold, evidence that regardless of price, the sense of security
attached to this trusted precious metal will outlast the market fluctuations and resonate with the industry in a big way.

Watch it
While the watch trend continued to boast the “bigger is better” theme, some women’s collections reverted back to simpler and subtler, yet powerful statement pieces.

“The Linea collection is the perfect balance of style and femininity, with its delicate silhouette
that hugs the wrist, to the interchangeable straps which allow for a true fashion statement,” says Michelle Peranteau, director of marketing & communications at Baume & Mercier.

Innovation in watch design was best demonstrated on the show floor with a mishmash of vintage to classic, bullet-proof to digital, all differentiating their brands in unique ways.

“We think there’s the potential to take "touch and display" technology and combine it into, not a smart watch, but a smarter digital watch,” says Donald Brewer, president of Phosphor watches.

Emerging markets power up
To demonstrate their prowess in the global jewellery market, China (specifically Hong
Kong), India and Brazil dazzled visitors with their own four C’s: colour, craftsmanship,
creativity and culture.

Hong Kong’s fancy banner directed showgoers to the rows upon rows of stone-studded booths all representing eclectic designs from one of China’s most fiscally superior regions.

A festival of jewellery was displayed in the India Gallery and a special “by invitation-only” evening with traditional folk dances and a fashion show was held. “[India has become]
the force behind the very top end. We come up with some of the most trend-setting and sought after designs today,” explains Raksha Manihar of The Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council of India.

Brazil proudly served up precious creations abounding with coloured gemstones, delicious
food and, of course, a tropical feel completely unique to the region.

Old and new
Rather than reinventing the wheel, New York-based Le Vian recreated a vintage bridal
collection in an irresistable campaign inspired by chocolate and diamonds.

“One of the biggest trends we’re seeing is that women, when they get married, want to
get married with an engagement ring that’s different than what other women have. So, we
are forecasting the Chocolate Wedding as the big trend in fine jewellery,” explains Eddie Le
Vian, CEO, director and designer for Le Vian.

The last word
When the final day of the show rolled around, after all the hands had been shaken, booths
visited and parties attended, the strong relationships that were nurtured, new ones built
and the promise of many more great stories to appear within these pages made this year’s JCK Las Vegas one for the books. 

*The JCK Las Vegas show is the jewellery and watch industry's main event. This annual trade show gathers international, mostly North American, jewellery and watch exhibitors, buyers and the public together under one glitzy and glamorous roof.

*This article was originally published in the August 2012 issue of Canadian Jeweller magazine.

January 17, 2012

Istanbul's best cultural cafés & eateries

Winter is the perfect time to catch up on all the indoor cultural events you missed during the busy summer months. Stock up on Istanbul's cultural heritage while enjoying the finest cuisine. E. Zeynep Güler-Tuck and Gizem Ünsalan have sought out the best museum and gallery eateries for your enjoyment


Located in the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, the stylish Istanbul Modern Café has a spacious terrace with a breathtaking view of theBosphorus. The museum, with its permanent and temporary exhibits ranging from local to international art, is one of Turkey’s best collections of contemporary art. The exhibition touches upon the relationship between nature, inanimate objects and people. When you want to take a break on your next visit, stop by the Istanbul Modern Café, which sits at the entrance beside the souvenir shop and is a great place to enjoy a glass from their select wine list. The menu consists of authentic Turkish dishes like Akçaabat köfte, served with Aegean-style sautéed vegetables and wrapped Swiss chard in olive oil, alongside international dishes like smoked salmon and pappardelle with fresh coriander. (0212) 292 2612. Meclis-i MebusanCaddesi, Liman Işletmeleri, Sahası, Antrepo 4, Karaköy. Open daily from10.00-24.00, Monday-Saturday, andfrom 10.00-18.00 on

Dine like the sultans at Karakol Restaurant, located between Hagia Irene and the Imperial Walls in the First Yard of the Topkapı Palace Museum. This museum is where the most salient examples of Ottoman opulence, from copper- and silverware to weaponry, the imperial treasury to the portraits and clothes of the sultans, are on display today. With four main courtyards, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Fully equipped with a Harem, Turkish baths, Imperial Hall, a Circumcision Room, Kiosk,Pavilions, Private Apartments, Mosques, Privy Chambers and gates galore, the minimum time it takes to drink the palace grounds in is 3 hours. In which case, it might be a good idea to either grab a bite before-hand or rest your weary feet at the on-site restaurant, Karakol, after your visit. The building where Karakol Restaurant is located used to be an exterior guard post of the palace during the Ottoman era.Today, Karakol serves authentic Turkish dishes on its a la carte menu and Mediterranean cuisine on its café menu. Take your pick!
(0212) 514 9494. Karakol Building,next to Hagia Irene, Sultanahmet.Open daily from

In 2005, the award-winning Changa restaurant in Taksim opened its spin-off restaurant, MüzedeChanga, in the garden of the Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Emirgan. Visitors of the temporary and permanent galleries of this modern museum can enjoy light repasts during the day, or even decide to return to the grounds at night when the restaurant serves Turkish-Mediterranean dishes with a modern twist. The menu is supervised by consultant Chef Peter Gordon, while the restaurant is right beside the Horse Mansion and sits on land that boasts one of the most stunning views of the Bosphorus. The décor of this eatery is a mixture of glass, wood and steel, with custom-made furniture created by renowned local designing firm, Autoban.
(0212) 323 0901. Sakıp Sabanc›Caddesi 42, Emirgan. Open dailyfrom 10.30-01.00, except onMondays. Call to make reservationsbefore 18.00 for

Cafe du Levant
Café Du Levant, Demlik Kafe, Halat Restaurant and Bar Bar Rossa are all housed in the Rahmi M. Koç Museum, which served as the anchor moulding workshop for the Haliç Shipyard during the Ottoman reign in the 19th century. It currently holds a reputation for being Turkey’s first museum dedicated to Transport, Communications and Industry. The main dining hall on the museum property is Café Du Levant, which takes you back to 1930s Paris with its décor, romantic details and French cuisine. Located in the museum’s garden, Café Du Levant is a great place to have coffee with mousse au chocolat or to enjoy a thoroughly French meal with a glass of wine. Another ideal location to taste light snacks during your visit to the museum is Demlik Kafe, located inside the Automobile gallery. Decorated with antique tea sets and porcelains, Demlik Kafe offers coffee, tea and sandwiches during the hours that the museum is in operation. With its sailor-inspired décor and Mediterranean menu, Halat Restaurant is another eatery located in the Rahmi M. Koç Museum. Taste Turkish and foreign wines along with dishes like the roasted lamb chops with yogurt served with vegetable tart and potatoes, and enjoy the beautiful Haliç view from Halat’s terrace in the summer. Bar Bar Rossa, an English pub located on the museum grounds that provides alcoholic beverages to Halat Restaurant, was decorated with antiques from Rahmi M. Koç’s private collection and is open throughout the year.
All venues are located at: Kumbarhane Caddesi  2, Hasköy, Sütlüce. 
Café Du Levant - (0212) 369 6607. Open daily from10.00-17.00, except Mondays.
Demlik Kafe - (0212) 369 6600. Open from 10.00-17.00 on weekdays and from 10.00-19.00 on the weekends. 
Halat Restaurant - (0212) 369 6616. Open daily from 10.00-22.00, except Mondays. 
Bar Bar Rossa- (0212) 369 6616. Open nightly, except Mondays.

Orhan Kemal was one of Turkey’s most prominent 20th-century authors. The Orhan Kemal Museum and Bookstore, where the author’s life is chronicled through photographs, letters and personal belongings, and where fans can purchase Kemal’s works, opened in 2000. Since Kemal wrote his booksand conversed with his friends at the Ikbal Kahve in Eminönü, his son converted the bottom floor of the Cihangir museum into Ikbal Kahve. Stop by here to enjoy a cup of tea and chances are you’ll find the son there, always willing to talk about his father’s work.
(0212) 292 9245-1213. Akarsu Caddesi 32 Cihangir, Taksim. Open on weekdays from 10.00-19.00.

SantralIstanbul is a cultural, arts and education centre located in the Silahtarağa Power Plant in Haliç, which was renovated by Istanbul Bilgi University. This multi-faceted centre has something for everyone, with workshops for kids, teens and adults. It’s been in operation since 2007. Otto, which is well-known for its Asmalımescit and Çeşme, Alaçatı venues, opened up an indoor location in SantralIstanbul. The menu offers international flavours (they’re especially well-known for their hazelnut vodka). They serve everything from the Otto Burger to Salmon Tagliatelle to lahmacun (Turkish Pizza). Grab a seat after your gallery visit and enjoy the Cheesecake of the Day. Otto Santral also hosts musicians and DJs. Time Out Istanbu lawarded Otto Santral the “Best Interior Design” award in 2007. As for Tamirane, with metal lamps dangling from its high ceilings and its vintage-inspired DJ booth, it may seem more like a nightlife venue, but it’s actually an ambitious restaurant. The menu is comprised of mostly Mediterranean flavours with a unique presentation.
Tamirane’s bar is the place to go for cocktails, with classics such as the “Pear Margarita” and drinks you won’t find anywhere else, like the “30-spiced Tamirane Vodka.”
Both venues are located at: Eski Silahtarağa, Elektrik Santralı, Kazım Karabekir Caddesi 2/6, Eyüp.
Otto Santral - (0212) 427 1889. Open from 10.00-02.00 on weekdays and from 10.00-04.00 on the weekends.
Tamirane - (0212) 311 7309. Open from 10.00-24.00 Monday-Thursday, from 10.00-02.00 Friday-Saturday and from 10.00-22.00 on Sunday.

Opened in 2008, the Arte Istanbul Art Gallery (Arte Istanbul Sanat Galerisi) is the city’s first sculpture gallery, located in the heart of Beyoğlu. While you’re enjoying the sculptures in the garden (weather-permitting), grab a seat at Café Arte for a light snack or stay for a while and sample from their delicious daily lunch specials.
(0212) 292 8045. Kumbaracı Yokuşu, Tercüman Çıkmazı 16/1, Beyoğlu. Open daily from 09.00-18.00, except

Located in the well-manicured garden of the Dolmabahçe Palace, next to the Clock Tower, the café offers reasonably priced dishes like tost (grilled cheese sandwiches) and hamburgers, though their beverage menu is more extensive. After touring the beautiful gardens of the former residence of the Ottoman Sultans and then the President of theTurkish Republic, enjoy the Bosphorus view for as long as the weather permits.
(0212) 236 9000/1279. Dolmabahçe Caddesi, Befliktaş. Open daily from 09.00-22.00.

*Originally published in the Novembe 2010 issue of Time Out Istanbul in English.


September 18, 2011

Refika’s fusion recipes for the soul

From psychology to culinary arts, Turkish chef Refika Birgül’s life has taken her on quite a journey. She shares her love for life and cooking, her fusion recipes and the perfect mistakes she’s made along the way. Erin Zeynep Güler-Tuck

Istanbul has been a home-sweet-home to many civilizations, their cultures and their cuisine. It would be a shame not to embrace all these cuisines under one roof. Chef Refika Birgül seems to have done just that in her kitchen, and in her bilingual cooking book, Refika’nın Mutfağı/Cooking New Istanbul Style. Embracing her love for cooking at a young age with the encouragement of her mother and older brother, she took to an undergraduate education in psychology, then a job in advertising, and straight into medicine, until she landed back where she had started: in the kitchen, simmering on her past and fulfilling the culinary creations of her dreams.

When and how did your love affair with cooking begin?
My love affair with cooking started at the age of 15. But I really got into it three years ago when I got my own house. When you are with your parents, it’s hard to cook food and do a lot of things, because they’ll like it or won’t like it, but friends accept you as you are, you have time, you want to entertain. Basically, after I moved into my house, all I had was an IKEA bedroom, cushions and towels, and the kitchen was complete. I wrote my first business plan on opening a restaurant when I was 22, while I was working with ifPeople, Pelin Serra. We were planning on opening a meze place like Wagamamas. I think that’s still a very nice plan. What I realized through interviews is that in Turkey, some mothers don’t let their kids in the kitchen, and I really didn’t understand why...maybe because [the mother] wants to make things as perfect as possible. And the girl, let’s say, can’t dice the tomatoes properly, and the mother says “ah, leave it, I’ll do it.” I think this is something that takes away from the kitchen. Luckily, I didn’t have that experience, plus my mom was working so hard and it was a gift to her to have someone else cook. Actually, the first person that led me into imaginative cooking was my brother. He’s 4 years older than me.

Have you ever made a mistake in the kitchen? What do you do about these mistakes and what happens when you don’t get the desired outcome of your recipes? 
I think we have to embrace making mistakes in every aspect of our lives. It’s how people learn how to walk. In order to move on in life, as real as moving on, making mistakes is a part of it. When I want to make something perfect, I really go crazyand just can’t do it. When I want to make something nice, then I make it great. Perfectionism is in my soul. I want everything to be in my control. But I don’t believe there is the perfect chicken or perfect stir-fry, there are so many variables there, and those variables are so interchangeable.When you ruin something, you learn more than you’d learn had you made it great the first time. You start to learn what you did wrong, and in the kitchen, to be able to make something out of the ruins is also a part of pushing yourself to be better. Also, my business strategy teacher, HasanYılmaz, the youngest CEO of Unilever, said he wouldn’t hire a guy who always had successes in life, but rather, a guy who instead had a failure and came back from it. That is the spirit of the journey itself.

What is it about Istanbul’s food that makes it so authentic and unique? The cultures within it probably are what [make] it so unique. I see Ottomans as the first and the best fusion kitchen ever. The fusion, in fact, evolved in 500-600 years because it was also on the Spice Road. The culture that dominates the world basically gets all the best things from the world, it was once England, and then it was America. The word 'fusion' came from California because a lot of people were immigrating there, and there were lots of different foods. London is now, gastronomically, the best place. As we know, they never had great food. But basically, what happened was that other cultures poured in, and then contracted the culture. Istanbul has always been the most appealing city. The Ottomans brought the whole world here. The food was always a mixture of religions and cultures. They go together. When we walk around [the Kuzguncuk neighbourhood], there’s a church, synagogue and a mosque, all near each other.  You cannot find such a thing anywhere in the world. Very naturally, I think this affects the food. I think this is what makes Istanbul food fascinating. What happened was, after the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Turkey closed its borders in order to heal its wound. Very recently, the new generation went abroad and saw and brought many [things back with them]. What they also discovered when they ate abroad, was how good [the local] food is and how fascinating it is.  At some point, it [seemed that] when you [went] to a very good restaurant, you [ate] French food or Italian food in Turkey; it was something that displeased me and made me very sad. Now people started to realize this, and you are starting to see cool Turkish food in cool restaurants, like Çanga, the one that started it.

What is “fusion” andwhat role does itplay in your cookingstyle and the dishesyou prepare? I’m one of those people who has been abroad and whose had an American education in Turkey, so, what basically happens is that you can look at [your culture] as a person who is born into it, and as a foreigner - we have the chance to look at it both ways. My fusion is Turkish food fused with world [cuisine], and food with life. It is in my nature to mix things. I like food being a basic, but a beautiful part of life. That’s why the food is not only recipes, that is why the ingredients are so important; the kitchen and how you present [the food] is so important. Because it’s all a part of the joy you get out of cooking. For things to be able to continue, like a company to survive by making money, a tradition can survive if it brings joy and happiness. It’s probably like your mother tongue. Even if you learn 5 languages, the language that you learned from ages 1-5 is the mother tongue, it’s the language you can grasp things easily in. I think food is a similar thing. The food you eat when you are a child, it’s the taste that we have had for years and years, so if you relate to that, that gives you a deeper, more genuine experience.

How do emotions and your feelings for those you cook for become a part of your cooking? What is the "Invisible Ingredient"?
Some chefs, or people who like to cook never go out and see the reactions of the people who eat their food. That, I personally do not understand. People’s reactions to my cooking intrigue me, and they really feed me. My own emotions feed my way of cooking. It’s really the 'Invisible Ingredient,' you don’t add anything different to the food. I think it’s magical; I don’t have much to say about how it works. It’s really magical and it happens. The relationship between the one that cooks and the one that eats is very important. That’s why I don’t think about opening a restaurant anymore, because you lose that at some point.

Do you mostly focus on cooking with local ingredients or can people all over the world enjoy cooking your fusion recipes? The beautiful thing about globalization is, in most of the big cities, you can find [lots of different] ingredients. If I want an Arabic ingredient, I can find it, Japanese, Chinese. They bring it via the Internet. But some of the ingredients in the book are very locally made. It’s important to have a specific filo dough. To find that, it might be a bit hard. We almost know the basics of Italian or French cooking, even though we don’t know how to cook it on our own. But Turkish cooking is really different, maybe not as different as Arabic cooking. For a Lebanese person, they can find all this ingredients; it does depend on the country. But basically, it is the idea, the spirit that [people] can be inspired by.

Your cookbook doesn’t look like other cookbooks? What was the inspiration for the eccentric design? When I was in university, I thought I’d get into advertising. When I was 18, I started to work with Medina Turgul DDB, one of the best advertising agencies ever. It was a great experience. I think it’s those times that helped me to look at things and how they can be easily read, the colours etc. The design of the book - to find someone who would do that was a process [in] itself. And it took a year to settle the design. [For] every page, there were at least 10-15 revisions.

What are some words of wisdom to novice cooks just starting out? Never push yourself. Do the things you love; if you like making bread, just make bread for a while. Do not ask 'Why?' ask 'Why not?' Never throw anything away. I hate throwing food away. Push yourself to find other uses for it and be happy not throwing it away. I put stale bread into pudding and make dessert out of it.

Not many people know that you are an avid photographer. Did you also contribute photographs to the book? Half of the photographs are mine, but the other half - the magical photographs of the book - are from Alp Korfalı. He is the husband of a very good friend, and he sees me in a great way.

Quick bits about Refika
Fave Istanbul spot to cook? My mom’s house, my mom’s garden, actually.  In that garden, when I was 15, I designed a lahmacun oven (similar to a pizza oven).
If you could, where would you want to cook in Istanbul? In the public space at the foot of Galata Tower.
Fave tool to use in the kitchen? Knives, I guess.
Fave Istanbul moment? Hanging out in my neighbourhood café chatting with people I know and just being - that is the ultimate freedom.
Something funny we should know about you. I am dyslexic. I cannot even write my own name from time to time. For me to have written a book was really pushing my boundaries. It’s all thanks to Microsoft Word!
Fave ingredients? Yufka (filo dough) – it’s a miracle!
Fave TV Show? This BBC 1 game show Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook really helped a lot of Brits to cook and develop their skills. And today, if London is one of the world’s culinary centres, I believe all those experiences helped.

Make a fusion meal in less than 30 minutes:

• Chicken breast, 1 whole piece
• Turkish String Cheese, 1 big strip
• Pastrami, thick and with side paste, 6 slices
• Mint, 1 pinch
• Large toothpicks
• Teriyaki sauce
Prep and cook time: 25 minutes. 

• Pound the chicken breast in order to make it a little larger than an A4-sized paper. If you are not experienced with pounding meat, you can ask your neighborhood butcher to do it for you.
• If you are going to do it by yourself: place a fridge bag on the chopping board, lay the chicken breast on the bag and add another layer of fridge bag over it.
• Place the pounded chicken breast in a flat-bottomed but deep bowl.
• Add the teriyaki sauce. To make sure the breast absorbs the sauce, make very thin scratches along both sides with a knife. Think of the chicken as an A4-sized paper that you will fold from the long side: lay 3 pastrami pieces on one half.
• Put the string cheese and mint on the pastrami and add another layer of pastrami.
• Fold the chicken as if you are sealing an envelope, and attach the edges together with the toothpicks.
•  Pour a little oil in a pan. Cook the chicken on medium heat, covering then uncovering the lid - on and off with 2-minute intervals for 10-12 minutes, so that the insides will be cooked but it will not be too juicy.

The Refika’nın Mutfağı/Cooking New Istanbul Style cookbook can be purchased at all major bookstores in Istanbul and on Visit Refika’s fun-filled, user-friendly website for more recipes and tips in the kitchen,  

*Originally published in the July 2010 issue of Time Out Istanbul in English.