Here we go.
Has been: a chef and a restauranteur.
Now: a cook, food writer, recipe creator, olive oil producer, food guide to Istanbul and Northern Aegean and consultant for hospitality businesses.
I rather define myself as a cook, not a chef. What matters for me is not the professional act itself, but focusing on ingredients, culture, producers and bringing all those things that matter into my daily enjoyment of food. Cooking for me is about sharing. Both at the table and here with words.
For many years I’ve written in Turkish, a blog, a cookbook and still have a weekly column at the national newspaper Oksijen. All is good but I feel the time has come to share my passion and reflect my knowledge about Istanbul cuisine to a broader audience.
First of all I am an Istanbulite. Proud to be one, being deeply rooted in Istanbul and its rich multi cultural culinary heritage defines my cooking. Istanbul cuisine is the most refined of all Turkish regional cuisines.
When you say Turkish food to anyone abroad it is always kebabs and döner. Yes, they are part of our culture but Turkish cuisine cannot be diminished to just this. It is a highly regional cuisine, where traditions are established by the geography. Food is geography. The climate, the winds, the mountains, the sea, the temperature differences between day and night.... that all changes with your geography and hence the regional cooking. Anatolia is rich with diversity and it reflects upon its cuisines.
Where you live determines what you cook with. On the south-eastern Turkey it is meat, aubergines and chilli peppers whereas by the Black Sea it is mostly defined by anchovies, collard greens , corn and cornmeal or on the Aegean it is baby goat, wild edible weeds and of course olive oil.
But now Istanbul.
Istanbul has been a capital for many empires throughout history and its food culture is highly multi- dimensional. With its heritage of Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Jews and Turks living in this most exciting of cities and co-existing within its walls, the food of Istanbul has become more than the sum of its people.
My personal preferences are defined from a very early age at home and by the food women in my family cooked. There are certain dishes I would never ever attempt to change. When something is perfect, why mess with it? But then as years passed on, both as a professional and a curious home cook I developed my own style. My cooking is deeply personal. Stimulated by ingredients, influenced by my travels, rooted in Istanbul, home-cooking at its best, it is Şemsa’s food per se.
Welcome to my Substack column. I will be sharing my recipes and my stories with you.
P.S. please don’t forget to subscribe.