Italian Wine News
Italian Restaurateur and Master Sommelier Makes Istanbul his Second Home
"This is what I like about Istanbul: I am drinking raki (alcoholic aperitif, usually anise-flavored, similar to the French Pernod) in Refik (a Restaurant in Beyoglu) and I see a young punk passing by. I am on the Bosporus and they are selling Ferraris," said Di Gino, who radiates energy and bears a striking resemblance to actor Andy Garcia but with big blue eyes.
"I love living here. Istanbul is a magnificent city, it is magic. Istanbul is unique. You feel the East meets Western culture in everything. From the Sufis to punk rock. You go from one edge to the other. Even in the food you can see it," he said.
Born to a restaurateur family, food has played a major part in Di Gino's life. He had grown up in an environment where family members produced their own wine, their own olive oil, and where his father worked as a chef in various well-known Italian restaurants in San Francisco, California. Di Gino has managed well-known Italian restaurants around the globe, before getting into restaurant consultancy, which paved the way for him to go to Turkey four years ago.
"I have been coming and going (to Turkey) for the last four years. I was mainly coming for meetings. We were doing consultancies around the Mediterranean and we were based here," he said. Di Gino believes a great change has occurred in Turkey since he first moved here.
"It was much more difficult to manage an Italian restaurant five years ago because the products were not there. You had to bring them in (to the country) in your luggage, hoping that somehow they would not stop you," he said laughing and added, "It is not the case today. Today you can find lots of good products. We have found a mozzarella now that you can compare to an Italian mozzarella; it was produced here.''
Talking about Turkish food as a food professional, Di Gino is disappointed that foreigners' knowledge of Turkish food is limited to kebab.
"Turkey is full of dishes, even dishes that Turks have not tried yet," he said. Di Gino, for one, is willing to explore the Turkish cuisine and different restaurants for different tastes. "My favorite fish restaurant is Pafuli on the Bosporus. The owner is from the Black Sea (region) so he gives you corn bread with anchovies," he said. Another favorite of his is a small restaurant on the way to Istanbul's Kemerburgaz district. "They have the widest offers of meze (Turkish appetizers) I have ever seen. And a lot of different greens. I do not even know what they are."
Di Gino loves meyhanes, the traditional Turkish drinking houses.
"I am a meyhane fan. They give me the genuine feeling of being in Turkey. You know the small streets near Tünel? Refik is my favorite place. Dish-wise, I have eaten better foods cooked at home than in restaurants. Things that you do not find normally around. For example, kuru köfte (specially cooked meatballs) or zeytinyagli kuru fasülye (dried beans cooked in olive oil)."
Di Gino has one criticism for Turkey's food industry: "Turkey is still not able to value their own products. For example, beyaz peynir (white cheese), I am sure there is a corner in this country that the feta cheese is better, maybe because of the difference in cows, or because of where the cows eat. That product should be highlighted as 'beyaz peynir from such-and-such place' to emphasize it is better than all the rest. We have this a lot in Italy and Europe." Di Gino said that this is a win-win situation for both the producers and the consumers. "The consumer buys a product that, even if it costs more, he is happier with. And the producer can actually uphold the excellence of his product because he can keep on producing high-quality products," he added.
Di Gino received the Master Sommelier certificate, which is given to only a tiny fraction of the finest professional sommeliers, trained and knowledgeable wine professionals, that specialize in all aspects of the wine service. As such an expert of wine, Di Gino is critical of the fact that there are no standardization laws regarding Turkish wines, that a producer can claim its wine is made of a type of grape even if it only contains 1% of that grape.
"I would recommend that you drink the wine from small producers in Turkey. Why? Because, for example, the owner of Corvus wines has no interest in giving you a 1% of öküzgözü (Turkish grape variety) wine. He wants to show off, he wants to sell a product, he can afford to do it, he believes in it. Therefore, I have more confidence in wines from small producers," said Di Gino.
Making the most of the city, Di Gino spends most of his time in L'Altra Risacca, the Italian restaurant in Sheraton Istanbul in Maslak, which he co-manages with Leyla Çullu. Customers know him, and he in return knows them by name. But what does he do when he is not working?
"You wanna know the truth?" he asked laughing, "I sleep." Di Gino enjoys house parties. "The night scene tires me. It is not because of the places. It is the traffic to get there. And once you get there, they do not let you in, because you did not call someone beforehand. I am more for Babylon kind of places. Good live music," said Di Gino. He is critical of the one aspect of Istanbul that anyone living in Istanbul would be critical about: "What I do not like (about Istanbul), and you can put this in capital letters, is the traffic. Whoever was responsible for building the roads, was either on drugs or an alcoholic. There is no logic."
Yet, even with its horrible traffic, Istanbul has become a second home for the young restaurateur. "I have been traveling for 12 years. I have been to many places around the world, but this is the first time that, even though I am out of Italy, I can smell my land in the air. Even though it is a different culture and you cannot compare. But there is still something in the air I can relate to," said Di Gino.
|Originally published by Turkish Daily News|