Geçenlerde bir İngiliz dergisi, Caterer and Hotel Keeper da Beyti Bey ile ilgili bir yazıyı aktarmış ve Türk mutfağının böyle prestijli bir yayın organında geniş bir biçimde tanıtılmasından nasıl mutlu olduğumu yazmıştım. Aynı dergi son iki sayısında büyük bir mutfak gönüllüsü olan ve kadrini ancak seng-musalla?da bileceğimiz büyük bir Türk mutfağı dostu, Yurdaer Kalaycı ve mutfak geleneğimize her zaman sahip çıkmış, Semahat Arsel?in Divan Oteli?nden söz eden birer yazı daha yayınladı. Yazıların tümü önyargısız, mutfağımızı öven, bizi çok iyi tanıtan nitelikte idi. Gerek Yurdaer Bey gerekse Divan Oteliyle ?aynen Beyti Güler için yazılan yazıda olduğu gibi- gurur duydum; göğsüm kabardı; gözlerim doldu. Benim onlar için söyleyebileceğim tek şey ?Ellerinize sağlık? demekten ibaret.



The scene is almost surreal. A whole roast lamb revolves on a spit driven by a water-wheel in front of the car park. Beside the hotel entrance, an antique farmer´s cart is perched on stilts two metres above the ground. On the terrace stand pillars made from ceramic pots. Inside, by the reception, a large eye stares from a painted hand, fingers splayed.


The artist is the owner of the hotel, restaurant, self-service, cafeteria and art centre which takes his name, Yurdaer 2.

Yurdaer Kalayci, the eccentric ex-farm machinery distributor who created this roadhouse half-way between Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, may have an individualistic approach to design and decoration, but he also has a deep-rooted love and understanding of Turkish cooking.

The son of a well-known Bolu chef, Hasim Usta, he started cooking in his father´s kitchen at the age of five. "My father was an artist," Kalayci says. "He treated cooking like a religion: when you do it, you don´t look left or right." Despite the discipline meted out to him by a strict parent, he fell in love with the profession. His father, however, had other ideas for his career and packed him off to university to study business administration.

Kalayci opened his first hotel in Bolu, Yurdaer 1, in 1984 and the second last year. Although he may be the "mystic" and "idealist" that he claims to be, his approach to business is eminently practical. Turkey has a minimal railway network and travel is predominantly by road. Coaches full of hungry passengers pass his door.

Instead of the bacon, egg and chips of a Little Chef, his self-service buffet offers a choice of mercimek Çorba (aubergine and tomato soup), köfte spiced with cumin and mint, green beans cooked with lamb stock, chicken stewed with green peppers, sautéed veal, patlican oturtma (aubergines and mincemeat), and Turkish rice puddings and salads. Total cost is about £3.50 for a three-course meal.

But that´s just the menu for the plebs.

Kalayci´s "gourmet" restaurant on the first floor, reached by a winding staircase with hand-carved banisters depicting Sumerian gods and Greek goddesses, is a treasure-trove of regional dishes and old Ottoman recipes, cooked as his father taught him. The meze may include karğa beyni (so-called "crows´ brains"), simply made by beating concentrated raisin juice into unpasteurised sheeps´ or buffalo yoghurt.

His soups may be the Bolu speciality of broad beans with yoghurt, or a classic ovmac áorbasi which takes its name from the way egg and flour is rubbed through a sieve to make minute, rice-like dumplings in the broth. He recommends that the soups are eaten with a squeeze of lemon juice, lots of black pepper and toasted local bread (which may contain a little mashed potato for added moistness), rubbed with garlic and smeared with butter.

Kalayci says: "The secret of Ottoman cooking is slow cooking. You must imagine that you are working with a candle and must never hurry." That´s true for his spit-roasted lamb, rubbed with a garlic, pepper, vinegar and tomato paste. It´s marinated for six hours, roasted for four hours and allowed to rest for an hour before carving. It´s even truer for the braised and stewed meat dishes.

The techniques will be familiar to any trained chefs but there are some subtle differences. Güveç (pronounce "guvetch") take their name from the thick-based, shallow-sided earthenware dish in which they are served. The raw meat, cut into small cubes - smaller than for a blanquette de veau, for example - are put into the greased dish with seasonings, vegetables and extra butter. No water is added. The dish is covered and baked in the oven.

Until the 19th century, yahni were made by simmering large chunks of meat in broth or water, rather like an Irish stew. Today, the meat tends to be cut smaller and is first fried in butter or oil, with some tomato paste. For kavurma, meat and onions are pot-roasted in a sealed earthenware pot until their juices have been extracted. Sometimes the meat is flavoured with thyme, sometimes with spring onions and dill.

Sahan are shallow, two-handled metal pans - the meat is sautéd in butter, a sauce goes over the top, and the dish is covered with a tight-fitting lid and braised. Kapama are similar to fricassées: lamb on the bone is brought to simmering point, drained, put into a fresh pan with spinach, lettuce, chard or other greens plus a little stock, and left to simmer.

Some recipes may combine two distinct stewing methods. For Kalayci´s erikli sogan yahnisi, a dish of small pink plums, lamb, onion and tomato, the meat, fruit and vegetables are sautéed one by one in the same pot, transferred to a güveç and gently steam-baked till tender. Where a modern British chef may try to give a value to each ingredient, a Turkish cook, like a Chinese cook, aims to create a balance of flavours whereby the separate elements overlap one another.

Across the road from Kalayci´s hotel, a lane leads to a hamlet with a mosque and a dozen houses. On either side of it are villagers´ plots growing sweetcorn, courgettes, peppers, aubergines, various beans, dill, garlic and onions, with quince, plum and medlar trees interspersed between them. Even in the parching August heat, they grow abundantly. If it´s true, as Kalayci claims, that the onion represents the soul of his nation´s cooking, the role of other vegetables is far more central than in English food - nearly all the braised meat recipes could be described as vegetables with added meat.

As in the regional cooking of Italy or France, the Turkish region of Bolu has its own specialities. Kalayci offers a local pastry, kaymak hosmenim, prepared like choux pastry. Butter is cooked to the noisette stage before local buffalo clotted cream (kaymak) is added. It is heated and flour is stirred in and beaten with a spoon until the mix leaves the side of the pan. Then it is turned out, cooled, rolled into a circle and baked in a tin.

The walls of Yurdaer 2 are covered with the paintings of Kalayci´s dreams, but canvasses of rural life hanging in a sanctuary capture his feelings for the countryside about him. His cooking is much closer to the land and its riches than to his visions. It´s impressive in the same way that Italian regional food is, because it brings together intelligence, culture and respect for his region.