Things you can get used to – invites from restaurants and tasting the complete menu.
Added bonuses – arriving and having an author, TV personality, restaurant entrepreneur and internationally renowned Italian cook, Antonio Carluccio, casually sitting at the table and ready for a chat.
Although there wasn’t an opportunity for my taste buds to explore the menu on this occasion, I did however, along with 13 of Istanbul’s leading food bloggers, have the chance to enter the mind of a culinary genius.
An avalanche may begin with just a molecule of water rolling slowly down an icy slope, gaining momentum and attracting more and more mass until you can’t escape it.
And so be it, the single form of Antonio Carluccio moved to London in 1975, made an appearance on BBC2 eight years later, wrote his first cookbook, opened a deli, progressed to 13 cookbooks, successful TV programmes and restaurants rapidly spreading across the UK, Ireland, the UAE and Istanbul, Turkey.
With this unavoidable mass of success, we are now completely consumed by the Carluccio’s snowball.
With a character as warm and comfortable as his yellow woollen sweater, Antonio chats easily as he smokes a cigarette.
His mop of curly white hair shows life experience, while his humour displays his young heart.
Antonio grins and tells us, “I was once served an oyster with chocolate sauce on top. I said to the chef, what do you want to achieve with this? He said, I want to shock people.”
This Italian cooking guru continues, “To shock people is easy. To please people, however, is certainly more difficult.”
He then shares his motto, which is summed up by three letters, repeated twice;‘MOF MOF’- ‘Minimum Of Fuss’.
‘MOF MOF’ is about simple food that pleases.
Antonio recounts the tale of the “many chefs who desire to become important, creating things that are impossible so they can just make a name for themselves”.
Perhaps to distance himself from these experimentalists he tells us, “I’m not a chef. A chef learns a trade. Whereas a cook concentrates on cooking and creating food.”
It seems the perfect moment for a ‘MOF MOF’ demonstration.
He spontaneously asks for flour, egg, water and mashed potato.
The aim, to teach the simplicities of Italian pasta with gnocchi.
The method is simple. Combine, knead and slice.
He tells us that after “ten seconds in boiling water, the gnocchi will float to the surface”.
Interesting… My supermarket packet pasta directions read like this, ‘kill in boiling water for 12 minutes for a floppy dinner’. However, this fresh Italian pasta is full of life and texture.
‘MOF MOF’ – Add spinach and gorgonzola. That is all.
Antonio notices the similarities between Turkey and his own country saying, “they have the same attitude with food. It has to be tasty.”
“Other places eat food for fuel to fill up their stomaches. But in Turkey they eat for pleasure.”Antonio Carluccio
Something that might seem odd to an Italian is the Turkish art of combining yoghurt with pasta, but Antonio is not phased saying, “You can’t dispute about taste. Food is culture. Turks like it, so why not do it.”
Similar to the attraction Turks have with yoghurt, Antonio is attracted to mushrooms.
“Mushrooms are one of the most important elements in life. With one or two mushrooms you can create a dish with ‘MOF’ and a lot of flavour.”Antonio Carluccio
His other attraction is Istanbul. He says, “Istanbul as a city is full of culture and the important thing is that everybody combines together and produces quite an interesting life.”
I present Antonio with the idea of a magic dinner invitation. I tell him he can fill in the name of anyone living or passed on and decide on the menu.
He invites the departed ‘Peter Ustinov’. It is a name I am not familiar with until I go home and google images.
“He was a genius of a human being. He knew many languages, he was an intellectual, he was an actor, an author. I believe a dinner with him would be very fun.” Antonio Carluccio
And of course ‘MOF MOF’ gorgonzola and spinach gnocchi is on the menu.
Written by Sheldon Heyes
Locations - The restaurant branding ‘Carluccio’s’ has a fine dining appeal with a niche for opening in the flashy, upperclass pockets of Istanbul – Akasya Mall, Kanyon Shopping Centre, Çiftehavuzlar (Bağdat Caddesi), Göktürk, and Nişantaşı.
Eventhough it chases Istanbul’s glitz and glam, the website statement has a comfortable tone saying, “our aim is to provide great quality authentic Italian food at sensible prices and allow informal but excellent service to our customers.”
Antonio Carluccio donated 50 pence per dish during the ‘action against hunger’ campaign. He raised 1.5 million pounds. The particular dish (pictured left), ‘penne giardiniera’, like his personal character, is easy, humble and pleasing.