The acclaimed Turkish chef and restaurateur recalls a few culinary crumbs from his youth and opts for oysters, wine and a berth on a boat for his fictional final feast.
“The notion of a last meal is absurd to me; ridiculous, even. Having a last one before you go is depressing and just too dark to contemplate. I’ve had many good meals and have enjoyed countless bottles of excellent wine throughout my life. One more bite of this or another sip of that isn’t going to change anything. I find it rather sad when people talk about their bucket lists because it’s sort of a confession that they think they haven’t done enough while they were alive and kicking. If I knew that this was actually my last meal, I wouldn’t be sitting around and celebrating. A nice clean glass of water would be it for me.
But if you asked me about an ideal meal then it would be some clean oysters and a good bottle of natural wine, enjoyed beside the ocean somewhere. One of my fondest food memories is eating that on a beautiful beach somewhere in the US, though I fail to recall the place’s name. These days there is so much fuss over food: what is the best, the fanciest, the newest? A simple meal on a little boat is a refreshing reminder of what life should really be about.
I was born in Finland to a Turkish father and Finnish-Swedish mother. I grew up in Sweden until I was 15 and I went to a French school. The food on the table was representative of that mix and was always very vibrant. Unfortunately I was allergic to many things throughout childhood and didn’t get to eat much of this wide range of food, let alone enjoy it. The memories of the taste, spice and texture of those meals are lost to me.
So it wasn’t the people who cooked or the taste of the food that brought me to cooking but rather the rituals surrounding it. Celebratory dinners, ranging from Finnish Christmas to Turkish bayrams [national festivals and holidays] are what I remember the most, specifically the feeling and the scenes. Christmas at my maternal grandmother’s house was the most impressive – and the most formal. The adults went out to chop down a tree while some hid in the backrooms secretly wrapping presents. When my grandmother rang the bell, everyone had to stop what they were doing and join the table.
I can’t remember when and where it was that I tried my first oyster but I know that I have savoured them ever since. For me, oysters are pure. They are perfect as they come and I prefer to eat them as such – as Mother Nature intended them to be consumed. With no garnish, not even lemon, it’s a utensil-free dish with nothing for a chef to prepare. It is rare for someone to indulge in the same meal repeatedly with the same elation but, believe it or not, oysters always give me the same satisfaction. Unfortunately it is becoming rarer and rarer to find uncontaminated oysters. And if we want to keep enjoying them, we need to take much better care of our environment. For the meal to be pure and perfect, the oysters need to be matched with a wine that represents the same qualities, not only in its taste but also its approach. The Mahlon wine – a gift from my dear friend Sabiha – made from arneis grapes at Ruth Lewandowski’s Fox Hill Vineyard in California does exactly that. The pairing is poetic in the sense that the oysters and the wine hold the same values of purity, sustainability and honesty. Both are natural and contain no added, harmful chemicals.
The sea is where I feel most at home. It is no wonder that a small boat out in the ocean is where my perfect meal would take place. That is also why I would have oysters. Everything about them represents the qualities of the sea: their salinity, softness, sensuality and voluptuousness. More importantly, oysters are one of those foods that make you realise that we come from the sea and will eventually – or hopefully, at least for me – end up there. It’s as simple as that.”
Mehmet Gürs is a chef, TV host, entrepreneur and environmentalist. Born in Finland and raised in Sweden and Turkey, he attended culinary school in Rhode Island before cutting his teeth in New York kitchens. He returned to Turkey in 1996 to set up his first restaurant and opened 21 businesses under his former company Istanbul Food & Beverage Group. Gürs’s Mikla restaurant in Istanbul embodies his vision of a “New Anatolian Kitchen”.
Gillardeau oysters from Normandy.
Mahlon 2016, a Ruth Lewandowski white wine from the US.
A wooden sandal (small fishermen’s boat, not a shoe) on the northern shore of the Bosphorus, Istanbul.