I’m a pretty good cook and a good baker. At least that’s what my friends tell me.
My friend Chef Paul says that I’m a foodie. I’ve been cooking and baking since I was 6 years old. My mother wanted to make sure her children could take care of themselves and that they didn’t marry somebody because they needed somebody to take care of them. Hence, my early introduction to cooking!
When I first met Chef Paul, we hit it off right away and became friends. I loved talking to him because he would always mention what was going on in his kitchen and would always dispense pearls of cooking wisdom just as a matter of course. Whenever he mentioned a useful tip or idea, I would sit up and mentally take notes. It paid off -- those tidbits improved my cooking. For example, when he cursed his staff for, “not even salting and peppering the chicken before cooking it,” I made a mental note to do just that and it improved the taste of the chicken.
Getting invited to Paul’s house for dinner is always a special treat. I try to come early so I could get a glimpse of what is going on in the kitchen and Paul is always generous enough to share what he is doing with me.
And so, when Paul invited me to an Asian cuisine class, co-taught with Deniz Orhun, I jumped at the opportunity. I never underestimate the power of working with masters.
Chef Paul Morello
Paul Morello has been a foodie for as long as he can remember. Two years before his time in the Navy was to finish, he had applied and been accepted to Johnson and Wales University School of Culinary Arts in Charleston, North Carolina. After graduating, he then went down to his hometown of Miami Florida to study at Florida International University School of Hospitality Management. That was his formal training. However, he’s been in the kitchen since he was 12 years old. While he was in middle school and high school, he also worked full time in restaurants. He’s been a professional chef for 26 years.
Although Paul is Italian American, his training has been in classic French cooking. He says his best training came from working as a young chef in some of the best French restaurants in America at the time, including Café Chauveron, Vinton’s Townhouse, Mayfair House Hotel, Capsouto Freres and Les Halles. He became an executive chef at the age of 24 and spent most his professional life working in various restaurants in Miami, New York, Washington, D.C., Virginia and South Carolina. He has equally mastered French, Italian, Mediterranean, Euro-Asian and New American cuisines. As a food consultant for the Frommer guides, he traveled the world, mainly in Europe and the Caribbean, with a special emphasis on France and Italy. In these travels, he met some of the world’s leading chefs including Julia Child, Jeramiah Tower, Michael Chiarello, Eric Ripert, Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse, Daniel Boulud and François Payard, tasted their offerings and used this vast storehouse of data to create his own culinary creations.
In Turkey Paul worked as executive chef at the Mezzaluna Group’s Chefoods/Shayna Beach Club in Çeşme and he was the founder/executive chef of Salad Station. During all these years of pursuing a professional career, he has also cooked for well-known movie stars, rock and pop stars, sports stars and even former presidents. Today he is using this vast storehouse of data to create his own culinary creations and concepts.
Chef Deniz Orhun
Our Asian cooking course took place in the back of the Klemantin bakery in Çiftehavuzlar, close to Bagdat Caddesi, which is under the ownership of Chef Deniz Orhun, one of the top three pastry chefs in Turkey. Deniz has an MBA from London College, which she says has come in handy for the accounting, managing, human resources tasks and guest services aspects of her business. She also has a degree from Kendall College in baking and patisserie. She has 11 years of experience -- seven of which she spent as the head pastry chef at the Four Seasons, Chicago. She has made desserts for many famous clients including Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and Matt Damon. In addition to her place in Çiftehavuzlar, Chef Deniz is the partner of a small bakery in Chicago, she has a small bakery in Maslak and she will soon open a bakery/patisserie in Bebek.
The class -- Asian cuisine
Before the class there was a flurry of activity in the bakery. Deniz’s efficient and friendly worker bees buzzed around us as we helped to set up the stoves, pots, pans and utensils. I washed and peeled the celery root, ginger, carrots and onions while Chef Paul arranged the spices, sauces and oils so they would be within arm’s reach for the students. Meanwhile, in the background, it was business as usual for the bakery as orders were baked, boxed and delivered.
When everything was set, the other students arrived. They were a wonderful and friendly bunch; a couple of them were seasoned cooks who wanted to learn more about Asian cuisine and a couple of them were new to the whole cooking scene altogether. You could tell by the way they chopped veggies and used the spices: the seasoned cooks worked quickly and confidently; they rarely measured anything, preferring to add a dash of salt here or a pinch of pepper there with their deft fingers. However, the newbies were tentative and unsure and needed the reassurance from the chef as they hesitantly measured every ingredient, checking it twice before adding it to the pot.
As we began to cook the ingredients, the smells of the Asian cuisine floated up and wrapped around the aromas emanating from the ever-busy ovens. They wafted up, entwined with the smells of cakes, cookies and breads and created a new heavenly smell.
One of the great benefits of joining a cooking course is that you get all the perks of cooking and eating, but there’s no clean up. Chef Deniz’s helpful and friendly staff kept the area clean and provided the chef with whatever he called out for. “I need plates! I need knives!” he shouted, and they appeared.
The results were fantastic. I had an opportunity to taste each student’s dish and they all tasted great, whether they were prepared by a seasoned cook or a novice. After the meal was finished, we all gathered and ate together: cold sesame noodles, fried rice with five-spice roast chicken, stir-fried vegetables and Asian salmon fillet.
Finding the ingredients
Upon arriving home with my recipes in hand, I found a Chinese market in Gümüşsuyu and purchased all the things I would need to replicate the meal: fish sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, five-spice powder, soy sauce, rice vinegar and sweet chili sauce. The market is on Dünya Sokak in Gümüşsuyu just to the left and down (about 100 meters) from the Yeni Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant, which is down the stairs behind a large archway and the bus stop for the busses going toward Beşiktaş and Eminönü. The prices are reasonable, but the woman working the counter wasn’t overly friendly.
One of the items I’ve been keeping my eye out for is coconut oil, which I still haven’t found. In the store they had coconut milk, but not oil. I asked the woman in charge if they had coconut oil and she pointed to a can of coconut milk and said, “This is oil.” We were talking in Turkish, and so she assumed I was Turkish and couldn’t read the can which said “coconut milk” in English. I told her that I was not looking for coconut milk, but rather oil. She insisted that I couldn’t read the can and that she was giving me coconut oil. I bought it anyway along with some Thai green curry paste, and I let her think I was satisfied with her claim. It was an hysterical scene -- two foreigners talking to each other in Turkish -- the small but powerful Chinese woman insisting to the American man that the word “milk” was English for “oil.” That’s a story to tell when I’m old and gray.
When I returned from my shopping trip, I was able to successfully replicate the wonderful meal of stir-fried vegetables and vegetable fried rice (sans chicken).
Joining the classes
I frequently go online and seek out new recipes and ways of doing things, but nothing compares to working with master chefs. When I was at Deniz’s café, I was impressed and inspired. The upcoming cooking classes are Italian cuisine and a repeat of the Asian course I took last week. For details go to www.klemantin.com. The course offerings are on the front page of the website. For English go to www.viamorellofoods.com and contact Chef Paul directly. These courses are for everybody -- whether you are a seasoned cook or a novice. In the future, Chef Deniz assures me, the courses will also be taught on the European side of İstanbul. I had a great time and can’t wait to go back again.