Like many people who read it, I was immediately seduced by the beautiful writing of Elif Batuman into a kind of long-distance fantasy love affair with the cuisine and project of the Turkish chef Musa Dağdeviren. Through her article about him in The New Yorker in April of 2010 I envisioned Turkey, a place I had never been, as a land of incomparable culinary wonders almost infinitely varied in terms of their regional specificity. Neighboring villages might have subtle but crucial variations in their recipes for herbed salads; roots, nuts, husks and edible weeds entirely unknown to “western” chefs were in everyday use; each town had at one time brewed its own fizzy, fruit or herbal sodas, the recipes for which were in danger of disappearing forever. In addition to running three busy restaurants on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, Dağdeviren was the chronicler and archivist of this mighty legacy, venturing into the countryside and its most remote villages, collecting and documenting recipes. He serves, according to another article, in Food & Wine, “more than a thousand dishes…each year, all prepared with the best seasonal ingredients.”
He publishes the recipes he collects in a quarterly culinary journal he founded with his wife, Yemek ve Kültür. I wanted those recipes. Food & Wine had translated and published seven. The Atlantic, adding to the mystique by publishing their own article on Dağdeviren only months after The New Yorker‘s, included a handful more. I waited anxiously for the inevitable cookbook. But six years after two of the most widely read and respected literary magazines in America saw fit to write glowing appreciations of the chef, I still could find less than twenty of his recipes online, in English. This project, which would be entirely impossible without the good-natured collaboration and linguistic ability of my friend Neba Noyan, attempts to address a gaping void in the English-language food literature.