This was my second dinner at Caffe Torino located in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle. This time the task was a bit more challenging – I had to cook for 41 people. In honor of the upcoming elections – I blended the meal with spices arriving from Southeast region of Turkey.
The real preparations started the day before. Cooking for large crowds is different than hosting a crowd at home. This year of transitioning into evenings at a restaurant, I realized the value of pre-planning in cooking. A plan of when to cook what makes the cook appear calm and collected.
The day of the event I arrived at Caffe Torino at 1 PM. We started the day with Caffe Torino regular and a friend Joanie. We chopped mints, parsley and tomatoes and started the prep work.
Around 4 PM I started prepping for the arrival of guests and plating the first course which was a Chilled Cumin Yoghurt Soup with spring onions and carrots.
As I was preparing the dishes the guests started arriving. It was an early summer day in Seattle. The sun was bright and was complemented with a slight breeze. As the guests awaited the first course they enjoyed the weather with the aid of prossecos.
The charm of the pop-up dinners at Caffe Torino is as much of food as the group of people that attend each time. It is a bi-monthly event that all of us regular participants and cooks look forward to.
We slowly transitioned to first course. In the US – Urfa pepper/biber- as spice has become the it-spice these days. A lot of restaurants in Seattle serve this pepper – a delicacy also from the Southeast of Turkey. Although there is so much variety to the red pepper – some spicy but sweet, some so spicy, some mild but flavorful. A spice yet to make it here is haspir – also known as fake saffron. It indeed looks much like saffron but much more affordable- acquired the same way from pedals of a flower. In places like Gaziantep, haspir is sprinkled most often on warm yoghurt topped dishes as garnish. So I used haspir for the cold soup and coupled the haspir with some dried mint also from Gaziantep.
Next up – the appetizer- was a rendition of the Gavurdagi salad- a salad that combines herbs, greens, walnuts, onions and tomatoes. I am very lucky to have my parents who just brought me a very fine pomegranate molasses from Gaziantep. When you can access someone who can make something usually bottled fresh for you – be their best friend. I acquire most my ingredients through personal connections – the pepper paste I use is homemade in Gaziantep for instance. If we were closer to Turkey, all jams served would also be homemade.
I added something usually not in this salad- arugula. I also made a tangy lemon, pom molasses and olive oil dressing spiced with sumac. I bought small sandwich cutters from France last year. I used them to make heart and flower shaped pita croutons. (who can tell me now that all the fun kitchen appliances are useless?)
There were two main course options – first one was lamb shanks rubbed with a Turkish honey/spice rub -in a spicy sauce served with hunkar begendi – a cheesy eggplant puree – or if you were vegetarian you got a piece of my rendition of the imam bayildi – the cold eggplant dish filled with onions, tomatoes and peppers.
I prepared a small decoration station for the main dishes. Being organized really helps in a setting like this.
We concluded the meal with a new invention: Revlava- basically it is the fusion of two different deserts: baklava + revani. Revani is a syrup soaked semolina cake – also known as basbousa in the Middle east. The cake is dense and soaks the syrup. Baklava is baklava- the layered pieces of thin dough filled with crushed nuts of different kinds. I slightly modified the revani syrup recipe to mimic a baklava syrup. I topped each piece of revlava with pistachios from Gaziantep. Underneath the desert was honey mascarpone cream. Unfortunately I don’t have a close up of this last bite.
The experience provided me the opportunity to understand one more time the true meaning of the term: contemplation – worries and life lost in the process of doing something you love – the all consuming feeling of connecting with something you care for. That is what draws me to cooking – the possibility of being able to be lost in the midst of spices, meat and plates, the joy of problem solving for issues such as – how do I fit 38 shanks in my fridge- how to plate quickly enough and all that comes before – and the anticipation – dedicating days to the process of dreaming of all these details before they happen!
Hope to see all of you in a future meal!