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29-02-2024

The protagonists of the congress: Maksut Askar, the Anatolia that wasn't there

The chef/patron of Istanbul's Neolokal restaurant is a storyteller of the ancestral traditions of his Arab roots, transposed into a contemporary attitude

Maksut Askar, chef at restaurant Neolokal in Istan

Maksut Askar, chef at restaurant Neolokal in Istanbul, one Michelin star and one green star. He will talk at Identità Milano, on Saturday 9 March, at 4.35 p.m., with compatriots Mehmet Gürs and Cemre Torun

Maksut is originally from the Hatay province, on the border with Syria. A young man of Arab descent, he does not speak Arabic but understands it very well. He studied tourism and hotel management in high school and university, delving into kitchen and service management. He worked in the food and beverage industry before and after his studies, pouring his passion into a variety of projects, including art exhibitions.

His adventures as a chef began in 2007. After a long apprenticeship, he opened his restaurant in the Salt Galata Building, a magnificent late 19th-century Ottoman building that once housed a bank: on the ground floor there is a bar where you can drink a magnificent Turkish coffee and other traditional delicacies; on the first floor, there’s a panoramic restaurant Neolokal, where he ceaselessly develops new interpretations of Anatolian cuisine, deeply rooted in his family traditions, in the memories and emotions of his childhood.

This is how dishes like Root vegetables, vegetables with roots, cooked separately but with the same preparation, called Zeytinyagli, that is sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, are served. Quince, celeriac, pumpkin, black carrot, chard... The raw materials are the fruit of the cook's tireless work with the 54 local Slow Food delegations, which are quite active.

This results in dishes such as Su böreği, literally, 'water meatball', one of the most popular versions of börek, a ubiquitous dish in Turkish tradition, a fresh pasta made with a thin (lasagna-like) dough, known as phyllo or yufka. The layers of dough are quickly boiled in a large pan and a delicate sauce of fresh cheese (usually feta) and parsley (alternatively, minced meat, onion and tomato sauce) is placed between them. Under the layer are also shrimps and small potatoes.

Maksut is a cook who perfectly expresses, in Turkish and English, the sacred fire that moves him behind a calm, oracular loquacity: 'Those who do not care about traditions cannot have a future.’ ‘We must humbly express our respect for the land.’ ‘We are a timeless restaurant, and this is essential if we are to be able to renew ourselves again and again.’ ‘We must transfer our memory to the next generations, without making mistakes.’ ‘I only get angry once a year.’ ‘Those who work with me cannot leave because I respect each and every person who works here.’

In terms of awards, Askar was in 2014 "The Best Chef of The Year'' for Time Out Magazine. In 2015, he was awarded "Le Proche'' at the Omnivore Congress, Paris. Neolokal is ranked 63rd in the 2023 World's 50 Best Restaurants and 93rd in Opinionated about dining's Europe Top Restaurants 2023. In 2022, Neolokal was awarded a Michelin star, both green and red. It is 88th in the Best Chef Awards 2023.

 

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


IG2024: the disobedience

by

Identità Golose

This article is curated by Identità Golose, the publication that organises the international fine dining congress, publishes website www.identitagolose.com and the online Guida Identità Golose, on top of curating many other events in Italy and abroad

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