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29 April 2022, 10:00

Istanbul restaurants vie for Michelin stars to introduce Turkish food culture to world

ISTANBUL, 29 April (BelTA - Anadolu Agensy). - Istanbul kitchen crews are abuzz with excitement and activity as the famed Michelin Guide restaurant rating system recently announced Turkiye's largest city as its newest destination for food lovers.

“Our team of inspectors has been following the Istanbul food scene for a long time. They have known about the quality, maturity, and excellence of Istanbul food scene for many years,” Gwendal Poullennec, Michelin Guide's international director, told Anadolu Agency.

“More recently, they have noticed an incredible dynamism and potential, based on both a vibrant culinary heritage and more daring, innovative and fusion propositions and recipes created by talented homegrown and foreign chefs,” he said.

Last week, Poullennec said that Istanbul's Michelin restaurants – and the number of stars they received – will be announced on Oct. 11.

Poullennec explained why Istanbul was added to the iconic red books. “As an illustration of the rich and intense history of the city, which has always been a crossroads of humanity, cultures, and traditions, you can find in Istanbul a culinary diversity which has astounded our teams.”

“Together, these variations are a reminder of the way Istanbul has always turned dining into a real way of life,” he added.

Michelin's anonymous inspectors have already started their work, Poullennec said, adding that “it is too early to share any information prior to the launch event.”

'Turkiye's food culture is very deep'

Ahmet Dede, an Irish-based Turkish chief who last year won his second Michelin star, told Anadolu Agency that the announcement is “great news” for Turkiye.

“Turkiye's food culture is very deep, (but so far) they haven't fully promoted our food culture around the world,” Dede said.

According to the award-winning chef, the Michelin guide will be a good platform to introduce Turkish food culture to the world.

“It will start with Istanbul, but I'm sure it will spread to other cities in the future,” he said, adding that this is a very promising development for promoting Turkish cuisine and tourism.

Calling Istanbul a city similar to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Shanghai, and Tokyo, Dede said: “It is already a magnificent cosmopolitan city.”

Vedat Milor, a prominent Turkish food expert, told Anadolu Agency that Michelin can be instrumental for Istanbul being included on world culinary maps and boosting the number of foodies seeking out the city.

According to the Turkish European Foundation for Education and Scientific Studies (TAVAK), more than 31,000 eateries currently serve Istanbul, which constitutes 40% of Turkiye's gastronomic economy as the country's food and beverage industry hub. In 2019, ahead of the coronavirus pandemic, around 13,000 new restaurants opened in the city, including 653 vegan ones.

Milor said that although the red book no longer enjoys the preeminent position it held in decades past, food tourism is gaining popularity, with more and more people seeing the world to sample its best food, so adding Istanbul to the Michelin Guide will be an important reference for those travelers.

But Milor has reservations about Istanbul standing out from other cities including in the prominent guide.

“Most of the good ingredients in our country already go abroad because (other countries) pay higher prices,” he explained. “They will pay much higher prices to eat those very good ingredients in Venice, Paris, and Tokyo.”

'Very good Syrian and Uyghur restaurants'

According to Milor, Istanbul is not in a city like London, which boasts examples of cuisines from a host of countries.

“There are very good Syrian and Uyghur restaurants. However, the quality is low in other countries' cuisines,” he added. “Maybe it will be interesting for conscious food lovers who want to explore the cuisines of different regions of Turkiye.”

A longtime diner at Michelin restaurants, since the 1980s, Milor has a love/hate relationship with the famed Michelin rating system, as told in a piece at his gastromondiale blog.

“The cuisine seems to follow a formula proven to be effective with Michelin inspectors, but lacking in character,” he wrote in Michelin: A Friendship That Went Sour.

“Why not give stars to traditional restaurants that do great food?” he asked. According to Milor, Michelin has generally – with some exceptions – refrained from giving traditional restaurants its coveted stars.

“I would be surprised if they give it to us,” he said, adding that there are very valuable traditional taste masters in Turkiye.

On allegations that South Korea made enormous payments for the company to add it to its red book, he said he would “not criticize” such moves, adding: “In such cases, each country acts in its own interests. If it will bring enough tourists, it will be worth the money.”

According to Milor, restaurants that master good visual presentation, know how to prepare modern dishes, speak English, and have good relations with international journalists will easily make the guide.

“Restaurants that try to do what they do very well, but do not have the financial power to market, seem to be in the background,” he said, adding: “If Michelin doesn't change its approach, there isn't much these restaurants can do.”

Dede trumpeted a message of hope and vigilance for Istanbul chefs. Be “in the kitchen,” he advised his fellow culinary artists.

“They should be in the kitchen, be stable, be at the head of their team, be at the stove,” he said.

“Taste is everything,” he said. “Tasting everything every day, testing the menu every day without getting bored, correcting the deficiencies, this is stability.”

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