Chef's Table (2015–…): Season 5, Episode 2 - Musa Dagdeviren - full transcript

After journeying through Turkey's regions, Chef Musa transformed the culinary scene in Istanbul when he started preparing traditional Turkish dishes in his restaurant.

Here is the thing called ferdali.

Its local name is perdeli (curtains).

It's the forefather of
the dish called kebab.

But it's not like other kebabs.
It's made with a single skewer.

Kebab has existed in Istanbul even prior
to the proclamation of the republic,

200-250 years.

But around the time I opened
Çiya Kebab, in the '80s,

foods such as kebab

were made objects of ridicule
in movies and everywhere else.

It was considered food consumed

by people without culture.

I was disturbed by the profiling of
people as cultured and uncultured.

I had to do something about it.

I had the idea to play classical
music in the restaurant.

People would eat kebab in the restaurant
listening to Carmina Burana or Chopin.

Slowly, people from a variety
of different backgrounds

started to come into the restaurant.

And they were discussing
culture while eating kebab.

Culture has nothing to
do with being educated,

or being a doctor or being a lawyer.

What a villager lives...

What a shepherd lives...

This is also culture.

Culture is what everyone lives.

Hello, everyone.

How's everything going?

I think it's like that.

How is school going?

It's good. I've graduated.

What does the school teach you?

Basic information,

like baking temperatures for
different kinds of flour.

Do they teach you what silkme is?

- No.
- Do they teach Turkish cooking techniques?

Not really, only the
main dishes, like dolmas.

What about regional cuisines?

We study them region by region.

Which region is this from?

I don't know.

It is from Kayseri.

It's called dizme manti.

I've always felt my
country has this problem:

People always want to say,

"This is Kurdish food,
Greek food, Armenian food."

When you define food in ethnic terms,
it sets communities against each other

and can create a serious alienation
and extinction of our food culture.

The local food culture varies
greatly all over Turkey,

and it has such rich characteristics.

This is what we should be focusing on.

Humans are carriers in the world.

They carry culture. They carry
food, music, electricity...

We must acquire the traditions
from the carriers of our culture,

and celebrate our rich diversity
in a way that unites us.

Auntie! What were you doing when
there was no mincing machine?

We did it very slowly with two knives.

Did the men help?

Come on. No way.

I am the youngest of six
siblings: one girl and five boys.

Being the youngest,

nobody listens to you.
You don't get to talk.

You hear things like,

"Keep quiet! You're a kid.
You aren't a grown-up yet."

Be careful.

Or you will get an owie.

But when I compare myself to
my siblings, I was luckier.

I was with my mom more often.

I was able to learn nearly
all the traditions and customs

of the region we lived in from my mom.

My mom used to prepare greasy
dumplings as an appetizer.

I used to steal some
while she was working,

and she would slap my wrist.
She used to say, "Be patient."

It had an extraordinary taste.

My mother said, "Your siblings
don't see what you see.

You are the seed.

You're going to keep
our traditions alive.

This is your duty."

Let's taste a piece.

Does the tradition of stealing a
piece of the best lahmacun continue?

Not anymore. Not anymore.

We never take anything without the
customer's permission, brother.

We used to steal from the stingy ones.

I didn't grow up in a wealthy family.

So, as a kid, I was taught
not to waste anything

and to know the value
of every little thing.

From the time I was five or six years
old, I used to work at my uncles' bakery.

Rich people would buy
meat from the butcher

and bring the meat to the bakery.

That meat would get
cooked at the bakery.

At some point, when no one was looking,

the baker's helper would take
the leftover fat from the meat,

spread it over the newly baked bread,

and eat it.

It's much more delicious than the meat.

A rich person can buy what they want.

A poor person makes their wealth

by means of creativity.

We'll pick peppers and sunflowers.

Half of us will pick red peppers,
and half will pick green.

Like this, for kebab.

Yes, very nice.

These look ready to pick.

I spent my youth living in Nizip.

People in Nizip were never defined by
their religious or political beliefs.

They never say, "Your ethnicity is that.

You belong to this denomination
or your nationality is that."

We were just people from Nizip.

But when I was 12, there was
a military coup in my country.

People started to kill each other
for having different beliefs.

It was scary.

In the house where we lived,
everybody took turns keeping vigil.

It became unbearable.

All these things were happening,

and I was questioning
why they were happening.

So, I started to read.

That's when I started learning about
what fascism is, what communism is,

what democracy is...

In a way, it was as if the curtain
in front of my eyes was lifted.

To exist in society,
you must choose a side.

So, I decided I was going to fight
for the things I believed in.

- Give it to uncle.
- Thanks a lot.

In Nizip, bakeries are
vital for the food culture.

There were 40 bakeries in Nizip,
including the one I worked in.

None of the bakers had been
able to get health insurance.

This bothered me.

So, a few of us started a union.

We visited all of the
bakeries, one by one,

and convinced the employees
that this was important to them,

and we decided to go on strike.

Everyone really struggled.
No one got paid.

The police threatened us,

saying we would be killed
if we didn't stay quiet.

But we continued.

This strike went on for 40 days.

After those 40 days,

they agreed to our demands.

I had a strong political stance.

And I was able to express it.

First, we make the
spoon out of a bay leaf.

We split the leaf.

This is what a shepherd eats at noon.

He gathers his friends
and other shepherds.

They sit together.

They eat together.

Everybody brings their goats. They
have their bowls on their belts.

They take out their bread and figs.
They have everything on their belts.

- This is their lunch.
- Great.

Let's find a goat.

Now, to make teleme,

our ingredients, our figs...

inside the bowl.

It is the fig sap that
ferments the milk.

Come on. Let's spoon up.


This is for one?

In the past, this wouldn't
be enough for one shepherd.

- Big copper bowls, right?
- The old bowls were made out of copper,

because a shepherd
has friends every day.

There is nothing like this.

My mom used to make it like this.

You take it from the top.

That's how we dried
eggplant back in the day.

If we worked that long on a single
eggplant, we'd lose our job.

Leaving Nizip was never
something I even thought of.

But after the bakery strike, there
were real dangers to my life.

So, I had to flee Nizip.

And that's why I came to Istanbul.

At first, I experienced some
kind of a culture shock.

It was an enormous city, full of people.

I noticed differences in restaurants
from one neighborhood to another.

Restaurants run by Albanians,
Armenians, Circassians.

People came from all over
Turkey to Istanbul...

and they brought all of the
richness from their regions.

And those differences
made Istanbul colorful.

I slowly began to feel this
richness as a part of who I was.

One side is too thin. It's not equal.

Who did this, Oguzhan? Send him here.

Next time, do it even.

Look, wait a minute. Do it like this.

After I arrived in
Istanbul, I needed a job.

My uncle had a restaurant.

So that's where I started to work.

I was experienced as a baker.

But I was interested in all the
other aspects of the restaurant.

I started learning their way of
working, what they were serving.

If the cooks who made the cold
dishes or the kebabs weren't in,

I would get very happy,

because this would mean that I
would get a chance to make them.

Everybody would admire my work,
but I'd say the cooks prepared it.

Otherwise, they would've gotten a
scolding for not doing their job.

Being a part of the kitchen
was truly exhilarating.

My interest in cooking grew,

and I knew I wanted to be a chef.

Chef Mustafa?

Shall we make today's menu?

Zucchini, beans, okra
and meat are ready.

Okay, let's start with
potato soup, then.

Kartol soup.

In Turkey, all men have
to serve in the military.

I joined the military in 1983.

Since I was a cook and a
baker, I was taken aside.

And they put me on cook duty
at the regiment in Ezine.

The first thing I noticed was they
weren't using good techniques.

They put all the
ingredients in one big pot.

So, the food had a weird color.

It came out mainly looking like mud.

Everybody in the regiment would curse
at us, saying this meal is terrible.

I told my boss, Mustafa, "This
isn't the right way to do this."

I told him that I would change this.

He said, "You won't be able to.
There are over 2,000 hungry men."

I said I would give it a shot.

Hello, everyone.

So, the next day, I boiled
the beans in a copper boiler.

Then the meat was sautéed
in a separate copper boiler.

The onions were sautéed,
along with the tomato paste.

At the end, everything was
cooked together in the broth.

And with this, something new started.

Look, it says, "Eat me."

The same people who would
leave after a spoonful

were now coming back
for a second serving.

Before, the food was
getting thrown away.

Now, people started to complain
that there wasn't enough.

There wasn't enough.

How is the handled one's
durability with wood-fired ovens?

You can't break these.

I swear to God, we have some
cooks who can break steel.

The cast iron ones may
break when dropped.

This one is brass. It is
made of the strongest stuff.

- I could engrave here.
- Yes, that's better.

It's better. Great.


When I got back from the military,

I decided to open up Çiya Kebab.

It wasn't easy.

I had to work day and night.

I was sleeping in the
restaurant on the chairs,

wrapping my shoes in paper or
my apron, sleeping on them.

I needed help.

And that help was Zeynep.

I went to Çiya for lunch one day.

We said that we wanted oruk.

But the waiter replied,
"It isn't called oruk."

I insisted that it was oruk.

I stop the waiter. I ask her,
"Madam, where are you from?"

She says, "Antakya."

I told the waiter that she was right.
People of Antakya call içli kÃ♪fte "oruk."

So, she was right.

There wasn't too much romance
between us in the beginning.

Musa's romanticism involved food,
food and food! Nothing else!

She offered a friendly helping
hand at the restaurant.

We were together every
moment, all the time.

We had fun together, laughed
together, created together.

Then this friendship
turned into this thing.

What would have happened
if we didn't meet?

I don't know.

If Çiya exists today,

it does so not only because
of Musa Dağdeviren.

It's because of Zeynep's
incredible contributions.

Çiya became the fruit of our love.

In the '90s, there were a lot
of political problems in Turkey.

Istanbul became polarized.

In essence, it caused
you-versus-me fights.

At that time, a customer
came in with his friend.

The customer said,
"This is Kurdish food.

I don't eat Kurdish food."

And they left.

People made condescending remarks
about different food cultures...

saying things like, "I don't
eat at a Sunni's restaurant.

I don't eat at an Armenian's restaurant.

I don't eat at a Turk's restaurant."

I couldn't believe it.

This food is from your own country.

Now they were rejecting these cultures.

The colorfulness of Istanbul was what
reminded us of our cultural richness.

But now the restaurants which
showcased our diversity...

were disappearing.

I decided to take a trip home to Nizip.

I needed to be reminded of the
richness of my culture firsthand.

When I got back, I wanted
to eat greasy dumplings.

But I soon realized the greasy dumpling

was not known by the people
in the region anymore.

I couldn't even see its traces.

I had observed our food culture
disappearing in Istanbul.

But in Nizip, where I
was born and raised,

I thought they were
preserving our culture.

In my heart, that dish was
associated with my mom.

This disappearance shook me to my core.

Who is it?

It is me, Aunt Hatice. Musa!

Come in, Musa.

How are you?

I kiss your eyes. Welcome.

- What are we going to do with this?
- Pişik dumplings.

Make it as you always make it.

I make this in the summer...

not in winter,

because there isn't good enough
tomato in the winter time.

Let me have the tomato.

Bless your hands.

These foods are still
alive, thanks to you.

It is my duty.

I realized that I needed to compile
the older generation's knowledge,

so that the next generations will at least
know about the existence of this culture.

I thought I should write a book.

It wasn't going to be a book

prepared by scanning the
internet and googling.

It had to be done through fieldwork.

We decided on about 40 villages.

- Let me see if I can make it.
- Sure you can.

Do I stir like this?

And we visited about 40 villages
over an 18-month period.

- There isn't a word to describe it.
- Enjoy it.

Unbelievably delicious.

There were so many dishes I didn't
know about, nobody knew about!

Almost done.

I was talking to the elderly,

absorbing and internalizing their
histories and life experiences.

I compiled all of this information...

and I returned to Istanbul.

Do you have some purple
basil? Five bundles?


- Also give me five bundles of the green.
- Okay.

Are these date palms domestic produce?

Yes, they are.

The date palms come from Alanya region.

Let's have half a kilo.

When Musa came back
from his field studies,

making kebab wasn't satisfactory
enough for him anymore.

At that point, the shop
across us became vacant.

Zeynep said, "Why don't you
postpone this book project?

Instead, let's just implement
your idea over here."

When we first shared
this idea with others,

they told us this was crazy.

They said that people wouldn't like it,

because people didn't know this food.

But we wanted to try it.

We sent 600 invitations out to
Çiya Kebab's customer base.

Musa's mother, my mother, Musa's
big brother, my big sister...

Everybody, in the best
way they could help,

squeezed into that tiny kitchen

and together made all the
dishes, all night long.

The next day, we had the
surprise of a lifetime.

We had to serve 2,500 people that day.

People were flooding in with excitement.

They said, "This is our region's food!"

It was just unbelievable.

People came, and their
purpose wasn't just to eat,

but to feel the acceptance
of their culture's existence.

Çiya's customers were the
manifestation of the food served there.

They're all different.

And they share their different
characteristics at one table.

Now, the gravel bread

is an old method which is done
in many parts of our country.

Look. It's here.

What will we do with this?

We put this into the oven.

- We put it into the gravel?
- Yes.

Is it like that?

- I couldn't do it.
- Don't worry about the gravel.


Toss it on the gravel like that.

- Folded.
- It's normal.

Here is the gravel bread.

Yours is better than all, even mine.

My mom said I was the seed for
the continuation of our kind.

That's how it started, and
it's been my duty ever since.

But now, the important thing is

that I leave this knowledge
to the next generation.

They are now the
carriers of this culture.

Now we will repeat this
at least ten times,

until the day is done.