The voice of my former roommate was still haunting me. I was at my future mother-in-law’s home and the voice said, "Will this attempt be successful?" He used to mock me when he would catch me “cooking” and would often recall the various instances the smoke detector would sound off, begging him for assistance. These failures were my modern attempts at domestication. Having been raised by a women’s rights activist who wanted nothing to do with being associated with the kitchen, my cooking skills were in need of some guidance. More recently, I thought I had it covered. I had researched some recipes and I had a few passable meals. For example I was able to make something close to German pancakes that I rarely burned and didn’t taste awful. I felt my repertoir was expanding. Fast forward to the recent visit to the home of my mother-in-law to be. It is a well known fact that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. In Turkey you may wish to add to that proverb ‘The way to a man’s heart is through meals that taste just like his mothers’. Therefore the pressure was on, ex-roomate’s words echoing in my brain. It was only half way through the first day when his mother politely asked me if I couldn’t be of more assistance helping my fiance watch tv, and leave her to do the cooking. "Relax" she insisted as she politely shooed me out of the kitchen. I had crashed and burned.
While I was far from heart broken that I had to neglect the kitchen duties, when my fiance gently insisted that I learn some new dishes I began to feel a little self concious. I turned to my friend Jen, a trained chef living in Istanbul, for some help. Her advice to me, get some professional instruction. And, as luck would have it an opportunity arose to take a workshop at Learn to Cook Istanbul. Learn to Cook Istanbul is a relatively new company run by Max, a British expat and his wife Melis, a professionally trained Turkish chef, who opted to teach instead of working in high stress kitchens. I contacted the couple who run the show and came to the small historical building across from the Galatasaray high school off of Istiklal Boulevard in Taksim, for my first cooking workshop.
Greeted by the husband and wife culinary team at the door, I was given a glass of black tea with cinnamon to sip. I was then led into the classroom where we sat around the specially designed, enormous and sturdy wooden table. The jovial couple and I waited for the rest of our group to arrive. There were two other pupils in addition to me, a tourist from Estonia and an expat from Indonesia.
Warm hummus, haydari which is a yogurt mezze, stuffed green peppers, Anatolian sun dried tomato salad and sweet fig dessert were all on the menu. There were even three local wines and Rakı and anison flavored alcohol which is Turkey’s national drink. Melis explained in depth the origins of all of our dishes and gave us helpful tips regarding their preparation. Meanwhile Max, gave us an explanation of the wines and a brief consultation on with which foods they should be paired.
The workshop not only covered how to make these foods but also gave us an introduction to the various spices used in Turkey and explained how and where to purchase the ingredients. After four hours I felt quite confident that I would be able to replicate these dishes at home and that as simple and delicious as they were I could serve them to guests who would adore them.
After three glasses of wine, some Rakı and delicious food I bid farewell to my hosts and my new friends. Max double checked to be sure that I’d had enough to eat and drink saying "Dont leave hungry or thirsty, leave happy." But in fact I had left not just happy and full but a little lightheaded with a new interest in learning to cook.
For more information on this course and upcoming courses such as Italian, Mexican and a two day bridal workshop, please visit their website at Learn To Cook in Istanbul - Istanbul Cooking And Wine.