Found in Translation: The Food of Istanbul’s ‘Master Chef’

Musa Dağdeviren made me seriously consider learning Turkish. Ever since I met him, six years ago in Napa at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, I was dying to be able to converse with him in his language, the only one he speaks. Like me he was part of the multi-national group of guest chefs and food writers taking part in several Worlds of Flavor Conferences. From the first time I saw him mix herbs and spices to season his kebabs, vegetable stews, and salads, I was bowled over by the unbelievably enticing and complex flavors he created in dishes that looked simple and straightforward, like the liver kebap (the Turkish spelling of the word) smothered in a blend of dried mint, cumin, and Urfa pepper; or his refreshing zahter salad—a fragrant, tangy mixture of minced fresh thyme shoots, parsley, onion, and scallions dressed in olive oil with lemon and pomegranate molasses.


Read also the wonderful NewYorker story about Musa.


I wanted to ask him how he came up with these amazing dishes, so different from the Turkish food I had known all my life. Unfortunately we had to communicate in English through an interpreter who knew little about cooking and ingredients, and this proved quite a challenge. I guess, during these first meetings, the only thing I could surely convey to Musa (pronounced Moo-SAH, stressing the last syllable) was how much I loved his food, and he probably liked mine, because he asked me to write for his magazine. Besides being an incredibly talented chef, Musa is also a passionate scholar, and this is obvious if you leaf through Yemek ve Kűltűr (Food and Culture), his wonderfully produced monthly publication that explores the history and roots of various dishes, ingredients, and cooking techniques. Unfortunately the texts are in Turkish and have not yet been translated.



Read More