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French chefs disappointed by Turkish hotels


Nevin Halici
Claudia Roden Writer
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She really dedicated her life – she didn't marry – to researching the regional cuisines of Turkey, which at the time nobody knew at all. And in Istanbul, in the great hotels of Turkey, they did not cook regional cuisines. No chefs knew the cuisines of other regions. And in the big hotels they cooked what was called classic Turkish cuisine. Which was the cuisine that evolved in Istanbul when it was Constantinople. When it was the centre of the Empire. And it was particular dishes. There were actually some very grand dishes, most of them took a lot of time. And so, they didn't filter down to the hotels. The hotels had picked on the easier things. And mainly the kebabs. But there were certain kebabs that were quite grand. They turned them into something grand. But the kind of dishes they did were just classic Turkish.

But she went from village to village, where women had get togethers, for each other, and where they cooked lunch. The women each took a turn into making a lunch. And they each had their favourite dishes. And they talked about what dishes they served for what festival. What dishes were important to them for a reason. And Nevin Halici – Halici means carpet dealer – took down notes and so she went around Turkey doing that. And so, she is now revered as the greatest person in food in Turkey. And what is funny is that the Chefs Association have made an award named after her for the best regional cooks. Each year. And they are called Doctor Nevin Halici Award. But when they did that only in December, they had their first award. And I was invited there, and I got an award as well. Because of the support I had given. Because I had helped to make Turkey known, because I kept sending people from all over the world who were doing, for instance Mediterranean film. Like from Malaysia.

Chef Juan was doing a series on the Mediterranean. He copied all mine. He told me so. But he also wanted to go to Turkey in particular, and he said, 'Who can I go to?' I said, 'Nevin Halici'. And she made it her duty to take everybody, people who came from America. Lots came. The top food writers came. They all went to her. And she showed them around, took them to restaurants, like she did to me. Every time I go there, we go, and she explains all the dishes and the pastries, and she tells you what to do. What they are. Explains and gives them recipes. And she always refuses money. I would tell her... the BBC went to her. And others went to her. And I just said, 'You can ask money, because you're a fixer'. It's a called a fixer. And they pay. And she said, 'Never'. 'Because' – she said – 'I do it for the honour of Turkey. And for our honour'.

Claudia Roden (b. 1936) is an Egyptian-born British cookbook writer and cultural anthropologist of Sephardi/Mizrahi descent. She is best known as the author of Middle Eastern cookbooks including A Book of Middle Eastern Food, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and The Book of Jewish Food.

Listeners: Nelly Wolman

Claudia Roden talking to her granddaughter Nelly Wolman about her life in food.

Tags: Turkey, Nevin Halici

Duration: 4 minutes, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023