As a child, I never thought I would be a chef. My destiny already seemed designed, patterned and cut: I would work in fashion, in my family business in Spain. I began my career as a salesperson in our family stores. At first I sold cocktail dresses, and once I mastered this, I graduated to selling wedding dresses. I always loved selling and had a blast working in our stores. I learned how to listen to the clients, to understand what they needed, what they wanted and what we lacked. I would come home and tell my Dad, “Dad, all the women want sexier dresses! We need to make sexier, more modern dresses.” I was an important connection between the stores and the customers. I would see what we were missing in the store; go to the product managers, help lead and design, say, the new sexier dresses; and then help market them.
I really loved my job. I loved finding the gaps in the market and I really loved creating dreams... I guess what I like most is the act of creation in general. I have always been interested in design in every aspect, from art to interior decoration to fashion.
Everything changed when I met the love of my life, my husband Ediz. I dropped everything and followed him to his hometown of Istanbul, Turkey. I moved without a plan, other than to follow my heart. Funnily enough, this move was also a return to my own roots - my paternal grandfather was born in Istanbul. I quickly fell in love with Istanbul. I love the people, my family, the food. Soon after my arrival, I became obsessed with the idea that I needed to get to know the city like the back of my hand. It started by getting acquainted with the area of Osmanbey, a district filled with tons and tons of fabrics, which I would buy and make my own dresses. I couldn't keep up with all the social events this city offers, but I also didn't want to buy dresses for every occasion. This is how I discovered the art of “doing everything from scratch by myself,” something my friends often make fun of me for. If you hang out with me long enough, you’re sure to hear me say at least once a day, “Oh, that's so easy! I can do it by myself, it takes like three minutes. I have the best supplier for that.” Making dresses seemed like the more economic and fun option. I used my instinct and experience to unleash my creativity. I designed dresses exactly how I wanted, and made just for my proportions. There’s something so thrilling about not just the spark of an idea, but of creating and executing, of turning that idea into reality.
At the same time I was making dresses, we moved houses. I saw this as my big chance to design my own house. Making the dresses was just a warm-up for the big show. I knew that my expensive design taste (courtesy of Pinterest) would have made it impossible for me to have my dream house. So naturally, I got to DIY-ing, kind of. I found incredible home fabrics between the Grand Bazaar and IMC, and great furniture makers. I designed and made my own sofas, lighting, mirrors, and carpets!
While doing all of this and having the luxury of not working, I also had plenty of time to improve my cooking skills. I started cooking in boarding school, but when I went to university in Boston I started asking my grandmother for her recipes. The first thing she ever taught me to make was the dressing for the aperitivo berberechos, consisting of red wine vinegar, tabasco, black pepper, and smoked paprika (which her housekeeper would bring from her home village). But let me tell you, understanding her recipes was IMPOSSIBLE! “Add a little bit of onion, a little bit of tomato, a little of this and that and let it chup-chup until you see it done,” she would say. “But how much is a little of this and a little of that? And how do I know the chup-chuping is done?” I’d ask, bewildered. It took many, long conversations and video calls for me to decode her instructions (I confess that I now cook the same way, with the instinct of my senses - eyeballing, listening, tasting, touching). My grandmother taught me everything about food, about produce, about cooking. In particular, she taught me about patience, love and care when cooking. She was my teacher and my muse.
In Istanbul, whenever I was craving a taste of home, I would recall those conversations and set out to perfect my grandmother’s recipes. I think it was my grandmother’s passion and zeal for cooking and feeding her family that stoked the flames of my own passion. She was an incredible woman: humble, caring, always devoting her time and life to others. She always prioritized her family; she was the one who gathered us around tables with her delicious food.
When I was young, I used to go to her house and have lunch with her every Wednesday. It always started with a little aperitivo: olives, chips, berberechos (cockles), and a fancy delicacy that she picked up from the market that day, like a fish egg salad, pork’s feet, or homemade boquerones (anchovies). Lunch was usually pasta with her famous tomato sauce, and a main dish like fried baby lamb ribs, which she would make us eat with our hands until there was no meat left on the bone. My siblings, grandfather and I would bet to see who left their bones the cleanest. After the siesta, we would have a picnic on top of the kitchen table and eat tostaditas con mermelada: toasted bread with butter and homemade jam (which she would make every summer with berries that she herself had picked).
There was a point between making my own clothes and my own furniture where I would cook seven dishes a day for my husband, and he got quite tired of it. One day Ediz told me, firmly and lovingly (I think), “Gabriela, enough of this shit! I am not your guinea pig. I don’t even like deserts! You need to do something about this; this is clearly your passion and you need to share it with the world.” I realized that he was right, that my obsession with food was meant to be my passion, my profession. So I went all in. I would wake up early and go to the organic market on Saturdays. I would chat with the farmers, have Turkish tea, pick up local fruits and vegetables, and of course, haggle for the prices. This is an excellent way to learn Turkish and to experience the Turkish culture - negotiating prices in the markets!
Once I found my true passion, there was only one problem: I had no idea about the industry, or about being a chef. Looking for guidance on how to begin, I remembered my Dad once telling me, “The best way to know a business is to start at the bottom.” I applied to many restaurants as a waitress, as a commis, as anything – I was willing to take any job, but I was rejected from every restaurant, told that I wouldn’t last a day, didn’t speak Turkish, and didn’t have professional culinary education. I was devastated.
In 2017, I was following a Paleo diet in an effort to become healthier. I would always have my girlfriends over for dinner and they were constantly surprised at how I made healthy food taste delicious. They encouraged me to start a healthy food company, a subscription deal where I would send daily meals for people looking to get healthy and shed some lbs. This is how Gabfoods was born. I would design, cook, and deliver weekly menus consisting of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to my customers. It was the first organic, gluten-free and paleo diet company in Turkey, a feat in itself, but I also used to cook everything by myself! The company grew almost overnight, and I worked at manic speed, in a constant state of inspiration and action. In order to keep up with demand, I opened the Gabfoods restaurant just a few months later. Besides a full menu, I sold our own brand products, from granola to yogurt to powerballs, gluten-free bread, nut butters, plant based milks, GF crackers…you name it, we had it!Then the Coronavirus pandemic hit. I closed the restaurant, halted deliveries, and stopped making products. Sheltered at home, we waited for the storm to pass, hoping for everyone to keep safe and healthy. This was, like for most people, an incredibly stressful time. Closing a restaurant makes a deep impact. I had responsibilities: my employees were financially dependent on me, as were some suppliers and a host of other people, to lesser degrees. I was far away from my family, who were in the center of the storm in Spain.
I thought things were tough until the unimaginable happened - I lost one of the most important persons in my life to the virus, my grandmother. I couldn’t go back home to say good-bye to her, and I couldn’t be there to grieve with my family. I was heartbroken. After she passed, I would call my family every day, and we would recall our happiest memories of my grandmother. Often, our talk would turn to her cooking - her Christmas feasts and the standing Wednesday lunches at my grandparents’ home. Christmas would never be the same without her, without her warmth, her love, and her cooking. I looked for a way to mourn, for a mission I could undertake to make my grief bearable. And this is how the idea to collect all of my grandmother’s recipes came to me. I started a group chat with my entire family, asking everyone to write down their favorite dishes that my grandmother used to make. I asked the women working at my grandmother’s house for their help, for tips and tricks. I collected everything and wrote it down in a way that was easily comprehensible for all of my family members, and shared it with them.
In collecting my grandmother’s recipes, I realized I wanted to write my own cookbook, with my own recipes. For years I’d thought about writing a cookbook, but never had the time or patience to tackle this challenge. The moment presented itself during a difficult time, but has become a comforting gift. This gift is the book you hold in your hands.I am happy to share the recipes of my home, and I hope you enjoy them in your home. Bienvenidos a mi casa.