During my recent trip to Turkey, I spent a day at the Istanbul Culinary Institute. At the outset, my intention was to share some stories and photographs with you, and encourage you to check it out the next time you're in Istanbul. Then yesterday, when I was thinking about why I started this website, something more meaningful came to my mind, and as I sorted through the photographs and the ideas I'd jotted down in my notebook that day, it became clear.
The most spirited images I had were the ones that showed how joyful this process is of learning to cook. The class was intimate, barely ten students, all women. There was laughter and focus. I even saw one little tear fall. The setting was familiar — I too went to culinary school — but as I looked deeper, I saw that the setting was one we have all experienced; it is the kitchen. The warm, fragrant place where we make the food that feeds us, and if we're lucky, someone occasionally shows us the best way to peel an apple or dredge a piece of meat.
What this place really evoked in me is not an urge to encourage you to sign up for a class there (though if you are in Istanbul you must at least have a meal in their restaurant), but rather, a desire to talk about how we learn to cook.
I bristle when I hear the term "self-taught cook" because while I know not everyone has attended culinary school, and that this may in fact be an advantage, no one learns to cook in isolation. It's impossible. Even if you cook for yourself only, you interact with your community; your grocer, farmer, the neighbor who smells it happening, the co-worker who watches you eat the leftovers.
For those of you learning to cook at home, know that when you have someone to dinner, and you talk about the food, the learning grows exponentially. That's what happens when we gather together to eat.
I should note that I was especially excited to visit the Istanbul Culinary Institute because the intro came through one of our writers, Leela Cyd Ross (who wrote about her time at the Institute in the post she wrote as a try-out for the job) and because it promised to be a very local, tourist-free experience. And it was. So if you do find yourself in Istanbul, I encourage you to take one of their one-day classes, or at least have a meal in their restaurant.
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)