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29 May 2015  |  0 comment  |  Zuhal Aytolun

Kitchen secrets from master chefs of Sahi

Sahi features special flavors. The menu includes special touches on local flavors from desserts to olive oil dishes, meat dishes and fish. Thin being the case, one wonders who the architects of these flavors are. For this reason, we entered the kitchen of Sahi, and asked our questions to their chef Hakan Yeşildere, and consultant Erkan Kıyıcıoğlu. Secrets of chef are legendary. They share things, but also keep their secrets… But we managed to find out some of those secrets. Without further ado, let’s leave the floor to them… But be warned: this interview will whet your appetite. Beware!

Kitchen secrets from master chefs of Sahi

-When one talks about gastronomy, this covers arts, flavor and science at the same time. It includes the creative process, as well as the service sector. As Sahi features very special flavors, we have to ask: What do you pay attention to?

Erkan Kıyıcıoğlu: I’d like to begin my words with the flavors on the ground floor of Sahi. There’s broad spectrum chosen and prepared meticulously from Turkish delight to chocolate, baklava and desserts. Details like Turkish delight being prepared fresh right there, and sugar candy being offered inside brown bags are remarkable. There are special flavors incorporating old elements here. On the other hand, the terrace menu is also striking… We made a point of including local flavors. 

-Sahi has a kitchen with Istanbul food. At the same time, selection of fresh and natural product is important. So, are ingredients the secret of this thing? 

Kıyıcıoğlu: Yes, definitely. Our chef Hakan Yeşildere is working meticulously in this regard. He goes to Eminönü every day to buy his cheese. Ditto for his spices. The meat comes from Balıkesir. We’re working with a very experienced butcher. Vegetables come fresh every morning. The menu was prepared carefully and selectively. Seasonal elements are the most prominent feature of the menu. 

-The people are a bit more conscious about food now. Steering clear of greenhouse food is very beneficial. Is it not difficult to practice this in a business? 

Kıyıcıoğlu: On the contrary, it’s possible to do this by creating a rich menu. The aim should be to obtain healthy food and flavor in the most correct way. We started with artichoke now, we’ll start making celery in September. We also have stripped zucchini, and we’ll start making eggplant when they become available. Because seasonal food is very important. We make a point of offering food and fresh meat. As there’s no sea fish during summer, we preferred salmon, which was successful.

Hakan Yeşildere: The European culture has tapas, while the Middle East has appetizers. We offer these flavors on our Bolu village bread. We also keep track of yields of the season in this respect, and make sure that they are fresh and healthy. 


-Flavors are important, but another element should be spices boosting their taste, and the amount of spice added to a dish?

Kıyıcıoğlu: All foods contain unique aromas. You can add variety to dishes with spices. You can create very different flavors by adding curry, or cumin, or chili pepper to chicken. The aroma changes right away. You can find oregano from nature in its season, and add it to the dish, and also add lemon if you want it to be sour. There are many options. Spice lets you add infinite variety to dishes.   

-The spice blends used at Sahip are now sold in jars so that the consumers can use them in their own kitchens. Can you say that you give out the “chef’s secret” in this way?

Yeşildere: Yes, we did. This also makes the consumer’s work easier. Because, a standard is obtained with these blends. Instead of “a pinch of this, a pinch of that”, you can attain the desired tasty result.

-In a way, chefs share their secrets, their perspective in the kitchen and the flavor of their hand.  

Yeşildere: Exactly. Gastronomy has become quite popular in recent years. It’s defined as kitchen arts. This is a correct definition. Because kitchen is really an art. And the chefs share whatever they’ve accumulation from the places they traveled, books they read, things they watched and listened… This is a sensual voyage as much as a gustative one. And spices emerge as the product of such an adventure. 

-How many spice blends are there? What do they contain?  

Kıyıcıoğlu: We offer six kinds of blends. The first one is the Ottoman Cuisine spice blend. We matched this blend mostly with pilafs, and we attained an excellent flavor. It contains pimento and cinnamon; it’s a slightly red blend. We can recommend it for dishes with sauce, burghul pilafs and stew. Another blend is the meatball spice blend. This is a blend containing black pepper, cumin and a little bit of oregano and onion powder that you can use in both grilled meatballs and İzmir meatballs. Its spice balance is really good. The other bland is a fish and dip sauce spice blend that can be served with fish dishes. It contains tarragon and dried dill. The vegetable dishes and soup spice blend is also quite delicious. It’s ideal for soups, but you can also use it in pastas if you like. The kebab and grill spice blend contains oregano and its derivatives. This is a slightly hot blend. You can use it for marinating chicken cutlet or serve it on lamb steak. We also sprinkle on calf shashlik, and it yields a great result. Finally, we have a salad slide spice blend. We used oregano, powdered thyme, basil, sumac and similar spices. It’s a pleasant blend containing subtle sour tastes. Some blends contain 6 or 7 spices, while some others contain close to 15.

-This should be quite exciting. Just like a chemist; a process of creating by trial and error, by saying a pinch of this, a pinch of that and a little bit of those. How was this journey for you?  

Yeşildere: It was a process that was shaped partly in our own palate, and partly in the quest for attaining new flavor. It’s actually very exciting. We worked as if we were creating a perfume. In fact, “baharat”, the Turkish word for spice, comes from bahar, meaning smell. Spices have an aroma, a smell. We combined them in certain amounts and reached a new aroma. Dishes impress you with their smell, their exquisiteness before you taste them. For this reason, spices are very important. We created blends that get their essence from Anatolia, but our visitors from abroad can also use easily in their own kitchens. 


-What were you influenced by in this process?  

Kıyıcıoğlu: First of all, we researched what’s done abroad. We decided that the product line had to be standardized. We could also prepare single spices, but this could result in the consumer not being able to balance the mixture. After determining titles in the preliminary phase, we made countless trials. For a universal palate, we uncovered flavors formed by aromas of this land. 

-While you’re sharing your chef secret, I’d also like to ask you what the correct use of spices is. What should one pay attention to?  

Kıyıcıoğlu:  The spice should be fresh. The later you add it to the dish, the more effect it will have. But this rule has exceptions. Sometimes you should fry the dish, and sometimes marinate it. We add fresh spices such as mint and oregano as close to the end of cooking as possible. Then their aroma will be more effective. 

Yeşildere:  Because if they are added before, there will be no aroma left. It can even leave a bitter taste in the mouth, which spoils flavor of the dish. If seed spices such as pimento and coriander are ground in a mill when they will be used, they will taste much better.

Kıyıcıoğlu: Freshness was our priority for Sahi spice blends. They contain no additives or moisture retarders. We produce as much as we will sell in one month, and do not store them. In this way, they stay fresh. Our advice to buyers is that they consume it within 6 months after opening the package.  


-What is the relationship between Istanbul and spice?  

Kıyıcıoğlu: Istanbul is not the motherland of spice, but one of the best destinations of it. We should not forget about the Spice Road and Silk Road.  

-And where can we buy the best spice?  

Yeşildere: Instead of the Spice Bazaar, we recommend the spice shops next to it. They are just as fresh, more affordable. Spice prices can be very high in the Spice Bazaar because of the touristic ambiance and high rent. 

-We traced good spice, but can we do justice to spice in our own cuisine? Are we shy, or are we open-minded? 

Yeşildere: We use nice spices in our dishes. We shouldn’t forget about different uses in other regions, either. Uses vary depending on the region. Gaziantep is a good spice point, and this is reflected in its cuisine. Hatay region is also very successful in terms of spice, as it’s on the Spice Road and contains various ethnical identities. The Ottoman Empire has the Istanbul cuisine. Influence of Sephardic Jews, Greeks and Armenians who used to live here is obvious. Istanbul cuisine is a multicultural cuisine. This multiculturalism can be seen especially in the Ottoman spice blend of Sahi. The use of pimento and cinnamon evokes that period.

Kıyıcıoğlu: The Ottoman cuisine included sweet spices. Dry fruits were also used in dishes. It was considered that the higher the number of spices in sorbets, the better quality would be. In that period, a high number spices was deemed the guarantee of a high-quality dish. For example, macun is considered to have healing properties, and it’s made from 40 kinds of spices. 

Yeşildere: The rarity of spices was another detail. This showed richness. There was even a time when one gram black pepper had the same value as one gram gold. For that reason, it was found in rich houses only. But now we’re free. The only thing we have to do is find fresh spice… Do it by tasting, don’t be scared of trying. But don’t forget: the priority is in the main dish. No details should suppress the main dish or eliminate it completely. Neither of the two should take precedence over the other.


-What kind of an area of freedom is the kitchen for you? 

Kıyıcıoğlu: The kitchen is an unlimited space. However, naturally, you’re limited in some respects. Your space is defined in terms of the number of guests, standing of the business and its menu. But if you ask in my own space, I’m unlimited in my own kitchen.  

Yeşildere: We can call it unlimited happiness in a limited space. You work for the best in the supply and demand equilibrium. Gastronomy is the rising star of recent years. Many schools and programs opened in this field. There’s a great interest in courses. However, only 20 percent of graduates Works in this profession. Looking from outside, this is an exciting but difficult, stressful and tiring profession. You stand up for hours. It requires great discipline. You always have to obtain the same flavor. It’s tiring, but also incredibly enjoyable for me. 

-There’s interest in gastronomy, but what’s your comment on the quest for flavor? 

Kıyıcıoğlu: The ingredients became more importance than the dish itself. The main aim is attaining good dish with the correct ingredients. The people should investigate where the best lamb, the best beans or tomato are. Because we drifted away from these. We wandered away from our seeds. We will see more local seeds and flavors in the coming years. These may be expensive in the beginning, but their prices will fall in time. Rapid increase in population throughout the world made way for cheaper production of food. Frankly, GM products and chemical-based agriculture reduced the quality of ingredients. Natural markets are the favorite of chefs now. The consumer is also heading towards this direction.   

Yeşildere: As Sahi, we pay strict attention to this. We use meat from Balıkesir region. Except for feeding time, animals are grazing freely. Their meat is better and healthier. The soil got polluted, and genetics of food was modified. Once, there was something called fallowing. Now chemicals are used, and soil does not rest. 80 percent of fruits and vegetables is water. When you give a chemical, they absorb it. When we prefer those, we’re actually eating chemicals. 

-What is your recommendation to consumers?  

Yeşildere: Organic food should be preferred, and should be bought from small producers. Food in which non-persistent chemicals are used in a small amount on the vegetable should be chosen. Good agriculture practices are important. Always buy local food. At Sahi, olive oil comes from Ayvalık, and sujuk from Balıkesir. Our bread is organic; it comes from Bolu.  

Kıyıcıoğlu: We use Siyez burghul. It’s a type of non-GM burghul, it comes from Çorum. Noodles are also special. 

Yeşildere: We reach local flavors and attain a genuine flavor, just like our name. Our principle is fresh, natural and healthy food. Everyone should adopt this principle. As a vision, we recommend people not to consume, but live in a healthy manner in line with the essence of this line of work. 

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