September 19, 2010

Turkish Cooking Challenge: Backstage of the Weekend Brunch Scene

Like any urbanite I have developed a taste for weekend brunches. There is something incredibly decadent yet utterly pleasant in lazily getting out of bed, pulling on jeans, favorite t-shirt, cardigan and a scarf for the ultimate casual chic look seasoned with uggi / rubber boots / converses / ballerina flats (to the liking and the actual season) and finding out that after the night our your red nail polish still goes and the hair get easily arranged into an artistic bun. All set for a brunch with friends.

Turkish Brunch: Signature Generosity of Zeliş Çiftliği
 In Moscow my favorite is Correa's - their fresh bread and pastry are among the best in town, fruit salad is out of this world and the whole fare is very honest which attracts crowds of the like-minded Moscovites and expatriates that come as couples (my British friend Kate - hey, darling! - have said once that brunches are for people who have sex), small groups of friends (here Kate's logic fails actually) and families with kids (well, she was right).

I must say that the segmentation of the brunch crowd travels across the borders as the same mix could be observed on the terrace of Zeliha Çiftliği (farmhouse), an hour drive away from Istanbul en route to Ankara. Today though I got to experience the backstage of the weekend brunch scene. I kept the converses but the rest of the casual chic had to go and were replaced with an apron (which I was told looked quite chic on me but well..) - we were turning the largest brunch buffet I have seen in my life to about 50 guests. If you get to see (and taste) this greatness you'll understand what makes the Istanbullus to sacrifice the weekend morning sleep and head out to the hills of Sapanca or come the night before for a yummy dinner and to be first in line for the breakfast.

Let me start: the buffet table gets filled with the bowls of dry fruits and nuts: pistachio, walnut, hazelnut, almonds, peanut, different types of raisins, dry apricots, figs, caramelized pumpkin. Then an army of homemade jams in the little vases is arriving: kiwi, lime, wild strawberries, raspberries, quinces, figs - and are joined with the tahini paste and grape sauce (which make a great mix) as well as honeys. Then comes a tray with the jars of cheese and olives marinaded in the olive oil and herbs. Now the forces are strengthened with the plates of halved boiled potatoes and eggs seasoned with the olive oil and paprika flakes and herbs, sliced fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, deep fried wrinkled peppers and slices of aubergines served with the sauce of fresh grated tomatoes, cheese platter featuring a dozen of varieties. Ah, I should not forget fresh fruits: triangles of fresh watermelon and a bowl of fresh apples, grapes, figs just picked from the garden. The pastry menu offers immortal white bread Turkey would not survive a day without, sesam bread rings, small bread pocket-looking cookies with shining tops, toasted cheese rek with the luring crunchy layers, kurabiye shortbread and a chocolate cake with almond flakes and chocolate sauce served on side - all is freshly baked in the morning. Now kaymak, homemade yogurt and pieces of butter served on the ice. This would not be complete without a bowl of menemen, Turkish take on the scrambled eggs with green chillies and grated tomatoes that is eaten with bread. All this will be washed down with endless glasses of black tea or Turkish coffee if you wish. 

I would definitely come here as a visitor later on - just to sit on that terrace with that unbeatable view, share the endless breakfast and contemplate. But for now I have been busy getting my hands messy with cutting, mixing and passing when asked, juggling the dishes (even when not asked) and getting some insights into the life of a restaurant employee. The truth is that you actually get to work when people eat: well, it is great they do and if you work in a restaurant you must rather appreciate the fact. The sad consequence of that truth is that you end up missing your normal meal times. Like today the kitchen action started at 7 am while we got to sit down for a quick breakfast around 11 am once ensured the guests have enough food and plates and everything and have not started asking for more yet. Because I have what one smart lady helped word as "body that can't sustain long without food" I need to snack pretty often. A piece of cake and a fruit and a glass of tea here and there just do not help. By 4 pm as I did the last round of dishes I realized I did not have a proper lunch nor that I could  care for one with such a heavy feel in the stomach. When I worked with a vegetarian chef in Sarajevo I did not have this problem as food was prepared as per order (not in bulks) and was mostly cooked uncovered to fasten the process: the outcome was that the kitchen was permanently fool of really exquisite smells which I find so filling that I don't actually need to eat. Here the smells are short-lived as they quickly get lead-covered, canned, packed into the containers or fridge-stored so I am surviving on the tea and the mercy of my colleagues that bring assorted impromptu bites and encourage me to try them "Ye, ye! Eat, eat!"     

By the late afternoon the place got quiet and serene at its best: I took a liberty along with my camera and tripod to explore the hidden corners of the large house, the unfenced autumn garden with fruit trees of an indefinite area. I have picked up a few apples, pears and figs from the ground - they were perfect in their ripeness as they just fell down and have not started rotten yet. These were the best best fruits I have had for a long time. Plain yet very rich flavor of the fruits and the view over the hills across the lake just a step away from the kitchen made me immediately forget the hundreds of dishes and cutlery items I've handled today - God save the brunching crowds and make them come back for more! İnşallah!

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