Gürs, in the 50Best despite everything

In Turkey, censorship affects cuisine too. But it didn’t stop Mehmet finding his place among the Best

23-06-2018

Mehmet Gürs, chef at restaurant Mikla in Istanbul, makes his debut in the World's50Best (at number 44) in Bilbao last Tuesday (photo from instagram)

One of the most beautiful stories of World’s 50Best ceremony in Bilbao features a Turkish cook, Mehmet Gürs. Those with a good memory will remember him among the speakers in the 2010 edition of Identità Golose in Milan: he arrived on the stage and placed dozens of different specimens of the same product on the table. Nobody could tell what they were. «Pistachios», he said, causing general surprise, «In Turkey we have more varieties than your indigenous grape varieties in Italy».

These were the first traces of the New Anatolian Cuisine, a path with which pioneer Gürs, half Turkish, half Finnish, was trying to explore the traditional products of a huge country, at the meeting of two continents. Poor and noble raw materials, sieved through with the help of anthropologists and farmers, mothers and grandmothers, and reassembled with new techniques that aimed to define a contemporary gastronomic identity and to set an example for young Turks.

Eight years later we found the chef from Mikla at number 44 in the 50Best, a debut for a restaurant from his country. A much-deserved acknowledgement for someone who, in the meantime, opened 21 more restaurants on top of the flagship one overlooking the Bosporus, from the top floor of hotel Marmara Pera.

Gürs with Slovenian Ana Ros, who also jumped into the 50Best, at number 48

Gürs with Slovenian Ana Ros, who also jumped into the 50Best, at number 48

Today, in Istanbul, Gürs runs casual restaurant Numnum café & restaurant, high quality self-service place Terra Kitchen, the acclaimed café Kronotrop (according to Buzzfeed they make «one of the 25 coffees in the world you should taste before dying»), and even an Italian trattoria called Da Enzo. The latest recent opening took him to Helsinki, in Finland, for the first time, his mother’s homeland. The restaurant, Andrea, mixes eclectic fine dining inspirations from Turkey and the North.

«I’m very happy», he said on the terrace of the Nerua restaurant at the Guggenheim Museum, on the occasion of the buffet organised on the day after the50Bestceremony by patron Josean Alija. «I’m very happy because in order to get here, from Turkey, we need to work twice as hard, and not just because over the past few years tourism has decreased». Ten years ago or so, the country was on the launch pad of the global radars: a growing economy, concrete negotiations to enter the EU, greater concession made by the government to the Kurds.

Beer at Gürs with the un-politically correct label 

Beer at Gürs with the un-politically correct label 

In April 2013, the suppression of the Gezi Park protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyp Erdogan led to a progressive and dramatic authoritarian turn. The situation deteriorated in July 2016, with the attempt to a military coup d’état, stopped with a bloodbath by the tyrant, who then proclaimed himself president.

«Only in the last year», says Gürs, «there have been 8 bombs and dozens of casualties. The tension is high and freedom of thought is shrinking: all the opposing information organs were silenced». Politics have an impact on restaurants too: «Over the past year», he adds, «we started a collaboration with a small brewery near Bodrum, called GaraGuzu brewery. Together we made a very good Ipa. We designed a funny label in which a happy person raised a glass of beer. We were forced to change it with a more neutral character, that didn’t praise alcohol».

The cook on the terrace of his Mikla. Behind him, the Bosporus

The cook on the terrace of his Mikla. Behind him, the Bosporus

This food related censorship also affected a good journalist from Istanbul: when reviewing the new Noma in Copenhagen, she had to omit mentioning the wine pairing, which was too dangerous to communicate.

On Sunday 24th June a general election is taking place in Turkey. According to exit polls the odds are the same for the Akp, Erdogan’s party, and the opposition, formed by Chp, Iyi and Hdp – the latter represents the Kurdish minority, and could possibly turn the scales. «However, according to the law, parties have to beat a very high 10% party barrier», says Gürs, «if they will all beat it, hope will return». Even for the future of the new Turkish cuisine.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


Sections

Zanattamente buono

Gabriele Zanatta’s opinion: on establishments, chefs and trends in Italy and the world