Q & A with Turkey’s foremost woman chef, Hande Bozdogan, the founder of the Istanbul Culinary Institute
What is the Istanbul Culinary Institute?
It is a culinary school for people who want to work as chefs in the industry. We offer a 6-month, full time degree program. We also have workshops for amateurs teaching world cuisine, as well as wine tasting and food and wine pairing. These are for the enthusiasts but the actual purpose of the institute is to train the chefs of the future.
In the same building, we also have an apprenticeship restaurant, meaning that at the final level of their education, chefs get to train in restaurant environment, which includes rotating in different stations such as cooking fish, meat or pastry. They also work night and day shifts just like a typical restaurant. This allows the students to gain some experience and enhance their self confidence. Working under the supervision of a chef and for paying customers teaches them many skills that cannot be transferred by individual trainings such as timing, plating, costing, menu designing, which are all part if their education.
Why did you decide to create this institute?
I am a trained chef myself, I took some classes at the Culinary Institute of America and I also graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York, where we worked in an apprentice restaurant. I personally learned a lot when I was working there. Turkey being a country of tourism, there is a great need for trained personnel and it would be great to have such a school locally. Although there are some universities that teach hospitality, nothing of the sort is available in Turkey. At the institute, you get a crash course and graduate in 6 months while concentrating on food from day 1.
We have been open for 5 years now and we have a new session every 3 months. We do not take more than a 14 students per session to ensure good teaching.
Mediterranean food is getting more and more popular. What are your thoughts about that?
The Mediterranean way of eating in the world started as a trend itself. With more olive oil and less butter, with more fish and lesser meat, with more grains and vegetable, the Mediterranean diet has became the healthy way of life, specially that is tastes so good. Studies have shown benefits of cuisines using more olive oil such a decrease in coronary disease, cancer, Alzheimer and Parkinson. All the research agrees that the pyramid where you eat more grains, fruits and vegetables, less red meat, more fish is a very healthy diet, and that’s what the Mediterranean diet is all about.
How did you find the food scene in Lebanon?
This is my first visit to Lebanon and I have been here for only two days but I had the chance to eat at several Lebanese restaurants. Some of the local dishes we have in Turkey but they have changed over time. I love the ingredients here. I love grains and olive oil. I think you have beautiful olive oil, which I had the pleasure to sample at the Olive oil tasting sessions. You also have a wonderful selection of wine and it’s a shame they are not available in Turkey.