The first is a collaboration with Istanbul-based cooking instructor and food tour leader Olga Tikhonova Irez, publisher of the blog Delicious Istanbul: a 5-day food and photography workshop this September in Sapanca, a lovely small town two hours by car from the big city.
Our partner Olga's story is compelling: Russian, well-traveled, multi-degreed with extensive experience in the consulting industry, Olga visited Istanbul a few years ago and fell in love (as so many of us do) with the city, its people and its food. So she quit her high-level job, left her home in Moscow and moved to Turkey to make a new life and career in food. Determined to learn everything she could about Turkish home cooking Olga talked her way into an apprenticeship to the female owner-chef at Zelis Ciftligi, a family-run lodge in Sapanca. There she met her future husband, son of said master chef. Now fluent in Turkish, Olga splits her time between Kadikoy, Istanbul where she introduces travelers to the delights of marketing and cooking Turkish-style with her tours and classes, and Sapanca where she helps her family run their business.
When I first stumbled across Olga's blog about 1.5 years ago I spent hours stuck in the archives. I was struck by her honest musings on topics like adjusting to her role in her Turkish family's business and the challenges of finding her place in her mother-in-law's kitchen. I salivated over her descriptions of home-cooked meals at Zelis and found that we share preferences for certain Istanbul restaurants. I found too that we share a dismay at the fact that Turkey's cuisine is little known and underrated.
So when Dave and I were in Istanbul last November we met Olga for coffee. The three of us clicked, and the seed of this workshop was planted.
Earlier this month Dave and I visited Olga and her husband at Zelis. Right away we knew we'd found not only the perfect partners for such an enterprise, but the perfect place: a comfortable, family-style lodging in a beautiful, quiet setting. A casual place where guests could truly feel relaxed and at home. A lodge large enough to easily accomodate a group but small enough to maintain intimacy. A kitchen equipped for a restaurant but homey enough to be right for a small group of people learning and cooking together. Lots of windows and beautiful light for photography. Proximity to great markets. Access to local producers. Gracious and friendly hosts. Even an adorable cocker spaniel named Bakir ("copper" in Turkish).
And the food? Spectacular. We've been eating in Turkey since 1998 and we have never eaten such delicious, lovingly prepared meze. We were served liver that turned me, a liver-hater since childhood, into a liver lover. Breakfast was an orgy of gorgeous fresh baked goods (Best. Borek. Ever.), cheeses, a killer menemen, too many made-on-site jams and preserves to name, fresh yogurt, an intriguing cheese salad that is a specialty of Olga's mother-in-law. It was hard to leave. We wanted to move in.
The four of us ate and visited a market and walked around Sapanca and brainstormed and took notes. Dave and I left excited for the workshop that he and Olga will lead in September.
So here's the deal: 5 nights, 4 full days and two half days of cooking, eating, marketing, photographing, with one long excursion further afield, to a sweet little Black Sea town, for a bit of street, architecture and nature photographry. We'll visit a local farm and meet a cheesemaker. Olga will lead in the kitchen, where you'll get your hands dirty (or dusty) baking bread, making borek and traditional cookies, crafting meze, patting together kebabs, seasoning soups, and more. She'll draw on the sort of deep knowledge of Turkish home cooking and food culture that can only be gained by immersion in a Turkish household -- and she will share it with you.
Meanwhile Dave will be there to coach you to great photography. He's been shooting for international publictions for a few years now, off next week for his fourth Saveur assignment in 6 months. Dave's also been teaching individual and small-group photography workshops since 2010 -- he loves it, and he's good at it. In Sapanca you'll tell Dave about your goals for the week -- whether it's getting comfortable taking photos of people, maximizing your time at markets to walk away with great images, or using light and shadow to bring out the best in a plate of food, whatever -- and he'll help you get there with plenty of one-on-one coaching time.
This has been a long time coming; we've wanted to offer a workshop marrying the two major elements of EatingAsia -- food and photography -- for a long while. But we're picky about who we work with. Olga is good folks. We're on the same wavelength. We enjoy her and her Turkish family and we learned so much during our brief stay at Sapanca. We certainly did eat well.
If this sounds of interest please hop over to the workshop website [here], read the detailed program, learn about the venue and see Olga's and Dave's bios. If you're interested, head to the sign-up page. We're limiting participation in the workshop to 9 individuals -- first come, first served. There is also room for 3 non-participating partners at a reduced rate.
I'm not teaching (nor am I photographing) but I'll be there, along for the ride. Dave and I hope to see you in Sapanca in September!