Gourmet of the Skies: Vedat Başaran

Hasan Mert Kaya Serkan Eldeleklioğlu December 2013

VEDAT BAŞARAN IS A SKYLIFE VETERAN, WHO HAS BEEN CONTRIBUTING HIS VALUABLE GASTRONOMY COLUMNS AND RECIPES TO OUR MAGAZINE FOR DECADES. WE HAD A SPECIAL CHAT WITH HIM ON THE OCCASION OF OUR 30TH ANNIVERSARY.

Göklerin Gurmesi: Vedat Başaran

Is food just food?
As somebody who has kicked a ball around for years, I know very well that football isn’t just a game. Similarly, I not only know that food isn’t just food, I live it in my life! Food is not just for filling the stomach. It’s actually advisable to get up from the table before one is satiated. The presentation and appearance of good food and the values they express form an integral whole. Food is definitely not a matter of philosophy or mathematics. If you put your heart in it, you exalt food as part and parcel of art and culture, and food in turn exalts you.

When is Turkish cuisine going to carve a niche in international gastronomy?
The first rule of the game, as I see it, is to take as broad as possible a perspective on the matter and define it as Anatolian and Ottoman cuisine. We are the heirs of a rich culture and of a geography that spawned empires. But we are unaware of the refined nature and depth of culture inherent in our culinary arts. Even the food served in our workingmen’s restaurants is as rich and varied as that on many a world class menu, and equally healthy to boot. Why? Because workingmen’s food does not use expensive vegetables. Everything is cooked in season, when supply is abundant and prices are low. Instead of artificially grown vegetables, field crops are used. Cabbage and cauliflower in winter, and artichokes in spring. And bonito is consumed in winter when it’s in good supply.

Could Ottoman cuisine become a world brand?
A world brand and more, very easily. There’s not just Ottoman cuisine but Seljuk cuisine as well! There is also a tremendous richness, nourished by the two different cultural basins that make up the world of Ottoman cuisine. We live in the home of the olive. Yet we are inept and deficient when it comes to exploiting that potential and creating market value. Our olives go unprocessed to Europe, where they are bottled and then marketed in the world’s top gastronomical cities like Paris and New York. The olives belong to us, but it’s others who reap their benefits. Of course, proper promotion is also essential in this business.

And how should that promotion be?
If French and Italian cuisine are the most popular and have the most cachet in the U.S. today, those countries’ cultural ambassadors undoubtedly have a big hand in that perception. Gastronomy has an enormous and direct role to play in the promotion of countries and the development of tourism. Food goes into the stomach, but the perception and appreciation are in the heart. Everyone in Turkey across a broad spectrum, from our government ministries and NGO’s to our digital and social media outlets and opinion makers, should regard the promotion of Ottoman cuisine as a national mission. Some recent initiatives in this direction have been encouraging. Nevertheless, Turkey has not yet systematized its gastronomy. No system has been developed for dealing with the culinary tradition as a whole. We need to gather this information methodically and produce an encyclopedia of Turkish gastronomy.

What is the secret of Ottoman palace cuisine?
Actually, there is no secret in the sense of a mystery or a miracle. The secret lies in the myriad tastes created by ancient traditions. The cosmopolitan nature of Ottoman cuisine and Istanbul’s identity as a world capital should not be forgotten, nor should the fact that the city was one of the most cosmopolitan in the world in the time of Mehmed the Conqueror. Within that cultural richness and diversity, people of different religions and cultures lived together and created a tremendous treasure trove of values. With slight nuances, we have prepared and eaten the same food, made from the same ingredients, as the Greeks, Armenians and Jews that live in this land.

What are your thoughts about Skylife magazine?
First of all, I congratulate all the employees of Skylife and Turkish Airlines whose efforts have gone into the magazine over the last thirty years. Skylife is Turkey’s gateway to the world. Its features offer high-quality content, which is further enhanced by quality visuals. Skylife is actually a world class magazine in that respect.