“Gullet is the source of life”, reads an old Turkish proverb – a pretty straightforward, down-to-earth take on the New Age-Occidental version of “You are what you eat”. Turks really do take that approach to heart, a fact that I’ve come to know as a “local native” first and serious eater later, over the years. So when we embarked on a journey to BULLETT’s sister establishment Alavya along with some colleagues and New York-based writers who happened to be friends back in July, I was confident that I knew what we were in for (I didn’t, it turns out.)
Alavya is a concept boutique hotel in Alacati, a once-Greek, small seaside village on the Aegean coast of Turkey. Famous for its generous breezes (dubbed “one of the best windsurfing and kite-surfing venues in Europe” by Conde Nast Traveler), beautiful stone houses with green and blue wooden window and door brims, and lavenders that grow in and around the village, Alacati was fairly unknown to the outside world up until mid-2000s. It is now a creative-types’-dream-come-true and vacation hotspot complete with an Annual Summer Art Festival, a very present artist-writer-photographer community and an array of Michelin-hopeful restaurants. As a matter of fact, Alavya (a word play on “I love you”) is home to two of these new generation restaurants, Mitu (“Me too”, pun intended) and Fogo. Led by the country’s first celebrity chef, Carlo Bernardini (Venetian by birth, Istanbulite by choice), Mitu’s menu has a more local flare with the likes of mücver (zucchini pancakes) or mantı (tiny dumplings), along with some international dishes that would make anyone comfortable and at home at once — like salads, burgers, or the most delicious french fries that anyone on our trip has ever eaten (topped with chopped parsley).
Fogo’s menu, on the other hand, marks the marriage of Bernardini’s Italian roots, and his personal interest in Alacati and its locavore culture. On the restaurant’s third night, we were there to see the open kitchen bustle with a conscious but calm stir as every single table in the restaurant filled up: On carefully selected tableware, local sea beans met with the finest burrata from Southern Italy, fresh lavender, melissa and rosemary — all characteristic herbs to the region — peeked out of starters, and risottos gleamed with lemon peels grated off from lemons that only arrived earlier that afternoon. As Coca-Cola worldwide’s CEO exchanged words with Bernardini at a corner, we heard that interior design guru Adam Thiany was here two days ago (and really liked what he saw). A week after that, the owner of Brooklyn Nets, Jay Z’s homie and Russian billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov came in with his entourage, we would later find out. As a matter of fact, Fogo was fully booked from that night in July until mid-September — which would be a *yawn type of thing in New York, but is unheard of in Istanbul and/or Turkey.
Bernardini is no stranger to discussing food options with people who get other people excited, he and his team once hosted Queen Elizabeth in Istanbul, after all. It’s not hard to tell that building relationships with his clientele is one of Carlo’s favorite things to do in Fogo, either — that is the exact reason why the only divider between the kitchen and the tables is a chic glass panel. In his own words, “When you see a person, and you say hi to each other — that’s when you put your heart and feelings into a dish. I always wanted to have a kitchen where I’m able to connect with the person who’s sitting at the table, and with what’s going on outside. I think what we have in Fogo is a place with soul, a place with feelings, that’s what I always wanted to have.”
Read more about Alavya and Alacati here.
Find out more about Alavya here.
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