How I Survived Turkish Cooking Class

My specialty is grilled cheese sandwiches, with the burnt side scratched off and served charred side down.  If it’s really burnt, I serve it with wine.  Lots of wine.  But cooking is my son Eli’s passion, which is how I happened to sign up for a Turkish cooking class while we were in Istanbul last October.

Eveline, owner of A la Turka, is a Dutch woman who followed her bliss to cooking school in Paris, then to Istanbul, to open her own cooking school and restaurant.  Feyzi, her master chef, is an excellent teacher.  Surprisingly, he manages to impart his wisdom without uttering a word.

Feyzi  had me with his first demonstration on the importance of presentation, as shown below.

We were cooking a five course dinner–red lentil soup, stuffed eggplant, zucchini fritters, stuffed grape leaves, sweet cakes, and even Turkish coffee.  Eli was jazzed; I was in it for the two glasses of Turkish wine they promised us with our dinner.   I waited for a task fitting my limited repertoire of culinary skills–scraping the burnt crust off grilled cheese sandwiches, and popping the cork off wine bottles.  Peeling and cutting up tomatoes for eggplant stuffing fell to Eli and me.  We took up our knives and jumped into the proverbial frying pan.

Cooking is like magic.  You start with raw materials…

…wave your magic wand, or stir it with your spoon, to be more precise.

And abracadabra!  You have crisp tasty zucchini fritters!

When I volunteered to stir the eggplant stuffing…

…I didn’t know Feyzi wanted me to do it with my hands.

Next we took eggplants, peeled them and gutted them.

  Am I the only one who thinks this looks like a breeding nest of baby space aliens?

Oh no! They’re getting away!

Eveline suggested I use paper toweling to clean my hands, instead of my apron.  I looked down and noticed the mess of red tomato-gut handprints on my front.  Dang!  And everyone else’s aprons were spotless.   Meanwhile, Eli was sprinkling pistachio crumbs over the sweet cakes too far from the plate, and he was relieved of that duty.

I decided I couldn’t get into trouble if I took a job stirring the pot on the stove.

As you can see above, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that my oven-mitted left hand had caught fire.  I did finally notice in time to save the hand, and the kitchen, if not my pride.

Eli says we were the ugly stepchildren in that class, but we did learn lots of tricks…like washing oniony hands in lemon water, or how to chop great quantities of herbs with a blade resembling a Klingon Bat’leth.

Among other things…



We were the stars of our own little cooking show, at least in our own minds.

We learned how to turn this…

…into this!

I also learned that I prefer white over red wine.  Nobody got killed.  And I’m thinking of starting my own cooking school.  Maybe I’ll call it “Cooking a La Turkeys.”

All images and words C2012 Naomi Baltuck

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