Mehmet Gürs and the manifesto of the New Anatolian Cuisine

The prophet of contemporary fine dining in Turkey returns to Identità after 8 years. He’s built an empire based on food...

13-03-2019
Turkish chef Mehmet Gürs in a photo from a coup

Turkish chef Mehmet Gürs in a photo from a couple of years ago, when he presented the New Anatolian Cuisine 

The prophet of the New Anatolian Cuisine returns to Identità Milano after 8 years. He spoke from the stage in 2011 and will speak again on Sunday 24th March at 3.45 pm from the main stage (see the programme). Meanwhile, plenty of things have happened to Mehmet Gürs, born in 1969. Just to give an idea, the English version of Wikipedia defines him as a "Turkish celebrity chef, television personality and restaurateur".

He’s Istanbul’s version of Cracco and a very successful entrepreneur: when he first came, he was simply "the chef from Mikla", his fine dining place. He’s now at number 44 in the World’s 50Best and continues to grow. Indeed, Mikla is still his crown jewel, on the last floor of the Marmara Pera hotel in Istanbul, in Beyoğlu, from which you have a stunning view of the city. The view is marvellous and if the weather’s nice and the temperature allows it, you can dine on the terrace, under the stars. The million lights of Istanbul, the Golden Horn with the ferries going up and down, the old neighbourhood of Sultanahmet on the other bank, Topkapi, Hagia Sophia, the minarets of the Blue Mosque, Süleymaniye Camii to the right...

The view from Mikla

The view from Mikla

 Gürs’s career has continued, however. He’s the president of the Istanbul Food & Beverage Group, a company that includes, on top of Mikla, some twenty more places scattered across the country: eight Numnum café & restaurant, which are like bistros; two Trattoria Enzo, offering Italian cuisine; Terra Kitchen, an organic and healthy food restaurant; nine Kronotrop, the Turkish answer to Starbucks, which BuzzFeed included among the 25 cafes in the world you should visit at least once.

A powerful growth, made possible by the partnership with private equity funds; but which has not changed the foundations of Gürs’s cuisine, which are strongly connected to his family background.

He was born in Ekenäs, in Finland, to a Finnish mother and Turkish father. He was raised in Stockholm and Istanbul and spent eight years in the United States. Here he first studied Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island; then he started his career. He returned to Turkey in the mid Nineties; Mikla was born in 2005, after Mehmet had searched every corner of the country, looking for the many food excellences: Kıvırcık lamb raised in Thrace, a sort of gruyere cheese from Kars, a town close to the Armenian border, wines from Cappadocia, pistachios from Gaziantep, wild lavender jam made by the women in a small village off Smirne...

A detailed work, years of careful research that gradually involved an entire team of cooks, a full-time anthropologist, endless farmers, breeders, fishermen, food craftsmen, as well as mothers and grandmothers and their ancient wisdom. «A successful collaboration between the keepers of the land and the chefs from town», he explains. Because this hard work of exploration of the Turkish culinary roots was included in a creative research that mixes contemporary and millennial techniques, the former discovered, the latter rediscovered. At Identità Milano 2011 he said: «I don’t serve Turkish cuisine: I work hard to observe cultures and cooking techniques used for decades and I blend them with my Nordic DNA».

Traditional Turkish cuisine. The photo is from Gürs’s Instagram account, reporting on one of his many travels discovering the culinary roots of Anatolia 

Traditional Turkish cuisine. The photo is from Gürs’s Instagram account, reporting on one of his many travels discovering the culinary roots of Anatolia 

This is indeed the New Anatolian Cuisine. And he’s defined it through a manifesto with seven points.

• Dare to look at the traditional habits, products and techniques with a new and fresh perspective.
• Make use of the great variety of products that exist in the area, reflect the microclimates and seasons in the cooking.
• Preserve the traditionally natural kitchen of Anatolia while being forward thinking. Be aware of the deeply rooted cuisine and the multitude of cultural layers.
• Adapt the harmonious past, blend the West and the East to the present.
• Embrace the cultural differences that make the area special and express the rich and vibrant character of the region in your cooking.
• Truly embrace the saying ‘No Farmer, No Food, No Future’. Support the producers who do a good and honest job. Make use of the products that have been produced respecting the land, sea, mountains and animals. Behold the future and use the science. Strive to create traditionally great flavours while considering the contemporary diet
• Steer clear from national, religious or ethnic barriers.

A photo from December 2017: Mehmet Gürs with Ayşe Tükrükçü, together they show Bread is Gold, by Massimo Bottura. Turkish cookTükrükçü founded Hayata Sarıl Lokantası in Istanbul (we could translate the name of the restaurant as 

A photo from December 2017: Mehmet Gürs with Ayşe Tükrükçü, together they show Bread is Gold, by Massimo Bottura. Turkish cookTükrükçü founded Hayata Sarıl Lokantası in Istanbul (we could translate the name of the restaurant as "Embrace Life"): during the day it’s a normal place, but after 7 pm guests order a dish for themselves, and one for the homeless in Taksim. The cook was sexually abused as a child and then forced to prostitute herself by her husband for years. She managed to escape this condition and founded this restaurant that offers assistance to those who have nothing: food as well as accommodation, training, and medical aid

This essential lesson has not changed. Gürs continues to follow it with decision. Balık ekmek (that is to say anchovies in a crispy bread with olive oil and mayonnaise with lemon: a fine dining take on a popular street food) is still his signature dish, the perfect translation of tradition into a contemporary form. The lamb from Thrace is still his forte. At Identità Milano 2011 he presented a typical pumpkin-based dessert, marinated for 24 hours in water and quicklime; the pumpkin then looks almost candied, and Mehmet Gürs adds pistachio in the shape of ice cream, and a sesame syrup.

The dining room at Mikla

The dining room at Mikla

We found the same dessert when we recently visited Mikla: instead of the sesame ice cream, there was one with saffron. The best dish is still the lamb, but in this case he uses the heart: Heart of lamb from Thrace, morels, watercress, pomegranate vinegar, sumac, burnt butter, green lentils from Malkara.

Gürs assertively continues the road he initiated. In Milan, he’ll tell us his next steps.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

The oil

The oil

Cream of potatoes, dried duck meat, basil 

Cream of potatoes, dried duck meat, basil 

The bread arrives, paired with olive oil from Marmara,  sheep’s milk butter and a cream of three cheeses from sheep, goat and cow’s milk, two from Smirne and one from Anatolia

The bread arrives, paired with olive oil from Marmara,  sheep’s milk butter and a cream of three cheeses from sheep, goat and cow’s milk, two from Smirne and one from Anatolia

Bonito from the Marmara Sea marinated in salt, fennel salad, artichoke preserved in vinegar, salicornia, capers, broad beans, parsley and orange zest 

Bonito from the Marmara Sea marinated in salt, fennel salad, artichoke preserved in vinegar, salicornia, capers, broad beans, parsley and orange zest 

Zeytinyağlı, that is to say braised quince apple with olive oil, turmeric and sorrel 

Zeytinyağlı, that is to say braised quince apple with olive oil, turmeric and sorrel 

We don’t usually mention the wines, but this is very interesting: Mayoglu Terebinth, a 2015 vintage from Gelveri Ltd. From white grapes from Cappadocia of the Keten Gömlekvariety, only used by Gelveri. The grapes not directly produced by them can only be found at the market in the village of Güzelyurt. Gelveri was founded in 2010 by German Udo Hirsch with his Turkish partner. It’s in Güzelyurt, a small village on a plateau, at 1,500 metres, below the Hasan Dag volcano in Central Anatolia: it’s a hidden vine-related gem. Udo uses millennial amphoras from Roman, Ottoman and Byzantine times (called Kup) and forgotten grape varieties: Mayoglu Terebinth is a natural wine, not filtered, with no sulphites. «I was inspired by the many Georgian producers of Kvevri whom I met over 25 years working in that country, and by the meticulous work of Josko Gravner»

We don’t usually mention the wines, but this is very interesting: Mayoglu Terebinth, a 2015 vintage from Gelveri Ltd. From white grapes from Cappadocia of the Keten Gömlekvariety, only used by Gelveri. The grapes not directly produced by them can only be found at the market in the village of Güzelyurt. Gelveri was founded in 2010 by German Udo Hirsch with his Turkish partner. It’s in Güzelyurt, a small village on a plateau, at 1,500 metres, below the Hasan Dag volcano in Central Anatolia: it’s a hidden vine-related gem. Udo uses millennial amphoras from Roman, Ottoman and Byzantine times (called Kup) and forgotten grape varieties: Mayoglu Terebinth is a natural wine, not filtered, with no sulphites. «I was inspired by the many Georgian producers of Kvevri whom I met over 25 years working in that country, and by the meticulous work of Josko Gravner»

Balık ekmek: anchovies in crispy bread with olive oil and lemon mayonnaise. A classic from Mehmet Gürs, created some 10 years ago. Balik means bread, ekmek fish. Balik ekmek is the typical fish sandwich with a few drops of lemon that you can enjoy at the dock in Eminonu, on the south side of the bridge of Galata. It’s street food, of which the chef offers his interpretation

Balık ekmek: anchovies in crispy bread with olive oil and lemon mayonnaise. A classic from Mehmet Gürs, created some 10 years ago. Balik means bread, ekmek fish. Balik ekmek is the typical fish sandwich with a few drops of lemon that you can enjoy at the dock in Eminonu, on the south side of the bridge of Galata. It’s street food, of which the chef offers his interpretation

Mantı, ravioli filled with vegetables, with smoked yogurt from buffalo milk, tomato, roasted garlic, sumac 

Mantı, ravioli filled with vegetables, with smoked yogurt from buffalo milk, tomato, roasted garlic, sumac 

Octopus from the North Aegean Sea, tarhana, camel sucuk, cabbage preserved in vinegar, fish roe, isot. Tarhana is a fermented mix of wheat and yogurt, camel sucuk is a camel sausage, which in this case is used for the jus to season the octopus. Isot is a chilli pepper

Octopus from the North Aegean Sea, tarhana, camel sucuk, cabbage preserved in vinegar, fish roe, isotTarhana is a fermented mix of wheat and yogurt, camel sucuk is a camel sausage, which in this case is used for the jus to season the octopus. Isot is a chilli pepper

The extraordinary Heart of lamb from Thrace, morels, watercress, pomegranate vinegar, sumac, burnt butter, green lentils from Malkara

The extraordinary Heart of lamb from Thrace, morels, watercress, pomegranate vinegar, sumac, burnt butter, green lentils from Malkara

Monkfish, erişte, Karnıkırmızı beans, Halhali olives, potatoes, capers, fig vinegar. Erişte is a type of pasta made with flour, egg, water, salt and milk. Since they know we’re Italian they say: «We have pasta in Turkey too!»

Monkfish, erişte, Karnıkırmızı beans, Halhali olives, potatoes, capers, fig vinegarErişte is a type of pasta made with flour, egg, water, salt and milk. Since they know we’re Italian they say: «We have pasta in Turkey too!»

Stewed lamb from Thrace, wild cabbage, nuts from Giresun, salted yogurt, potatoes, cheese in tulum from Bergama, cumin. Cheese in tulum is made with goat’s milk and is matured in a container made with goat’s skin called tulum in Turkish. Bergama is a town near Smirne

Stewed lamb from Thrace, wild cabbage, nuts from Giresun, salted yogurt, potatoes, cheese in tulum from Bergama, cumin. Cheese in tulum is made with goat’s milk and is matured in a container made with goat’s skin called tulum in Turkish. Bergama is a town near Smirne

Pumpkin, saffron ice cream, Sürtme sesame, pistachios form Antep, hemp seeds. The pumpkin is first marinated in quicklime water for 24 hours and then cooked 

Pumpkin, saffron ice cream, Sürtme sesame, pistachios form Antep, hemp seeds. The pumpkin is first marinated in quicklime water for 24 hours and then cooked 

Finale with a tasting of cheeses from Anatolia made with raw milk

Finale with a tasting of cheeses from Anatolia made with raw milk


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