Friday, April 19, 2013

ARÇELIK GASTRO ISTANBUL: Preview & Overview/Part 1

Dear readers,

About a couple of weeks ago, the buzz about Gastro Istanbul began and I started seeing snippets in the newspapers, but wasn't quite sure exactly what it was and said, "hmm... gotta find out more'"

Just when I had these thoughts going through my head, I received an email from Yeşim Aksoy, owner of Kiraz PR firm inviting me to a dinner at Raika on April 16th - and yes the dinner was being held to give us information on Gastro Istanbul! Of course, I delightfully accepted the invitation and headed to Raika with great anticipation to find out more about this culinary event! 

Sidebar: Just a mini-sidebar before I give you information on the event... the Turkish culinary scene has made tremendous strides since the mid 1990s. The trend probably started earlier, but since I returned to Istanbul in 1995, I only feel comfortable talking about the changes in the wining and dining industry in Istanbul after this date. Of course the growth in the Turkish economy also played a major role in these changes. Back then, you could easily count the number of  fine dining restaurants and cafes you could go too. Only one or two internationally known restaurants (i.e. Papermoon, Bice) had opened branches in Istanbul. No one had heard of Starbucks or any of the other coffee houses springing up in the USA. Then the influx began! While some other internationally known names (Hakkasan, Spice Market) flopped in Istanbul, others like Zuma, Cipriani started to make their mark. P.F. Chang's  and Dean & Deluca recently landed in Istanbul!  But, the most important factor was the growth in the Turkish owned restaurants and cafes. Sunset Grill & Bar, Ulus 29, Park Şamdan, Changa, Lucca, Bird, La Brise Brasserie Vogue and so much more  were discovered by the foreign community living or visiting Turkey. Reina, housing a number of restaurants in the summer (and their own restaurant year round) is probably the most popular club/restaurant in the world! You can't walk down the street without running into a Kahve Dünyası, Simit Sarayı, Kitchenette, Midpoint, Big Chef's etc.! The list is quite endless and I don't mean to offend anyone who is not listed here, but there is no way I can list everyone! 
Although Gastro Istanbul was being planned for the last two years, I personally believe that the first "seeds" for Gastro Istanbul was planted last year with an event organized by my dear friends Zeyno Gürses and Ebru Eke (the owner of  - a local culinary portal) The much smaller-scale event was organized in cooperation with the Municipality of Şişli to promote Turkish-Italian cuisines at Maçka Park at the end of September, 2012. This event  didn't have the backing of major sponsors, but I believe they did a fantastic job and the event included tastings, seminars, food demos, etc. and the objective was to show the comparisons between Turkish and Italian cuisines.     

As you can see from the above, Arçelik Gastro Istanbul (so named as Arçelik is the main sponsor) will take place May 9-12, 2013. The venue for this major gastronomic event is KüçükÇiftlik Park (also a site for many concerts) which is in Maçka and within walking distance to Nişantaşı and Taksim in the city center.

There was about 20 of us at the dinner and included various journalists as well as some of the organizers of the event which is being organized in cooperation with TURYID (Turkish Restaurant and Entertainment Association), Dream Design Factory (DDF), Türk Mutfak Derneği (Turkish Cuisine Association) and main sponsor Arçelik.

Present at the dinner were festival committee members Kaya Demirer, Cem Mirap, Levent Büyükuğur (representing TURYID); Tülin Karabük (Vice President - Marketing/Arçelik); Arhan Kayar (partner at DDF); and Sitare Baras, representing The Turkish Cuisine Association from MSA (Culinary Arts Academy of Istanbul). 

The roster of committee members from TURYID is quite impressive! Kaya Demirer is the current president of TURYID, owns Frankie Istanbul and is President of the Arçelik Gastro Istanbul Committee. He has also partnered up with Jamie Oliver and a branch of Jamie's Italian restaurant will be opening at Zorlu Center in the latter part of this year. Cem Mirap is the owner of my "home away from home" Lucca and is the committee's CEO; Levent Büyükuğur is one of the partners of the Istanbul Doors Group (Vogue, Gina, DaMario, Zuma, Ca'd'oro, Angelique, Kitchenette, Carlotta, Mama and more!); Mehmet Gürs is the popular chef and owner of Mikla and the numnum chain; Ayşem Saraçoğlu is Frankie Istanbul's managing director and Ahmet Uluğ represents Babylon, an internationally recognized popular live music club, completing the lineup as committee members from TURYID! I am proud to say that except for Ahmet Uluğ, I have been long-time friends with the TURYID  members on the committee and have been a frequent visitor of their restaurants and cafes, which are on the top of my list of places to go to. 

This is just an overview  blog post, so I will save some of the juicy details for my next post, but suffice to say - approximately 40 top Istanbul restaurants/cafes will have stands at the event and will offer visitors anywhere from 3 to 4 of their most popular dishes to taste.

Throughout the 4-day event at KüçükÇiftlik Park, visitors will not only get a chance to taste some very delectable dishes, but they can also shop for fruits, vegetable and herbs from the expansive "Market Stand" 

Moreover, other activities include cooking demos by chefs from Turkey and around the world; sommeliers will share their knowledge of wine while noted bartenders will prepare their special cocktails; seminars on Turkish cuisine will be held; private dinners for small groups will be organized in the VIP Lounge; the largest "brunch" table in Turkey will be set up offering food and music throughout the day; Turkish street vendors will be peddling typical Turkish beverages; and concerts will be held!

The following is Arçelik Gastro Istanbul's floor plan:

Arçelik Gastro Istanbul will be open from 10:00am to 10:00pm and the admission fee is 10 TL for adults and 5 TL for students and children under 12. There will be a separate charge for the tasting of the dishes and prices will vary from stand to stand based on the offering, but the minimum cost will be 5TL/dish, but no higher than 25 TL/dish. 

Based on the initial feedback the committee has received, there is quite a bit of interest in the event internationally and numerous foreign journalists, gourmands and foodies will also be attending. The Committee Members have been working for over 2 years to organize the 1st of hopefully many many more Gastro Istanbul events!

Let's not forget that this is the first such important culinary event being organized in Turkey and needs our support. I don't know about you, but I plan on hopefully being there everyday!

Hope to see you at Arçelik Gastro Istanbul! More info to come in the next few days!

Stay well,