The Istanbul Culinary Institute is a Halhali olive’s throw from Mikla, in the district of Beyoglu, on the European side of Istanbul. Since 2008 it has been teaching people who want to become professional chefs, grounding them in the basics of Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine. It’s an increasingly popular career choice in Turkey, but it hasn’t always been that way, as founder Hande Bozdogan explains.
«In Turkey, it’s a really new phenomenon that this profession is taken as a reputable one,» she says over coffee in the Institute’s stylish restaurant. «Before it was just cooking - anybody can do it, it’s for people who have no choice. Whereas if you look at the TV, on every channel at prime time, there’s something about cooking. It affects the way that people look at the culinary scene, they are like role models.»
Occupying a narrow eight-storey building, the Institute offers intensive classes on cooking and restaurant administration. Ingredients are sourced from the Institute’s own farm in Saros, near the border with Greece. «All the products we have here are fruit and vegetables from our garden - no hormones, no chemicals. We don’t buy anything canned or frozen here.»
Food cooked at the Institute is sold in the restaurant, which is staffed by trainees and often visited by tourists. There are also cookery schools and food tours arranged through the institute for tourists wanting to learn more about Turkish cuisine. And while many of the students are Turkish, the Institute takes on people from countries as diverse as Australia, Japan, Canada and Saudi Arabia.
It’s testament to the appeal of Turkish food around the world, but when it comes to ingredients and recipes at the Institute, the focus is entirely local. «It’s back to basics time,» says Bozdogan. «We are discovering old and once deserted plates. We’re rediscovering Ottoman dishes, looking at old writings, archives, old books. Ten years ago it was hip to eat sushi. Now it’s hip to have a salad with local mixed herbs from this and that mountain.»