Invasions by the Kitchen Guerilla take the mobile cooking unit's owners Koral and Onur Elci to some extraordinary venues. They've turned building sites and sailing ships into gourmet palaces, from Istanbul to Hamburg. Our author Lena Frommeyer visited them amongst the steaming pots and smelled their home-made sausages.
Photos: Kevin McElvaney
Koral Elci gently massages a mixture of boiled potatoes, raw fish, oil and spices. Very slowly, with one hand, which is encased in a black rubber glove. “Another four hours, we'll make it” – words to encourage the kitchen crew and himself as well. There's a bit of flour clinging to his beard. With his free hand, he reaches for a sheet of notepaper: it says “rock oysters”, “berry ice cream” and “Iberico”. He has sketched the national borders of Portugal alongside it. Koral Elci sets the bowl aside and sends his gaze wandering through the old warehouse in the Hamburg district of Ottensen. Unheard-of things will happen here this evening: two Turkish brothers will take Portuguese cuisine apart – and put it together again northern German style.
Koral and Onur Elci have been vigorously shaking the tree of eating habits and culinary conventions since 2009. With the mobile kitchen unit Kitchen Guerilla, the two brothers and their gastro-friend Olaf Deharde invade strange restaurants, sailing ships, construction sites, churches and other unusual locations and stage themed culinary evenings from Hamburg to Istanbul. Their goal is to return cooking, the origin of every culture, to the central focus of social life. “It got on our nerves that everyone eats on their own in Germany,” explains Onur. “Where we come from there's one long table, you sit among people you don't know and a lot of courses are served in the middle of the table, intended for sharing”.
The culinary success of the evening will be decided by the cookbook author's palate
A session like that is about to happen today at their headquarters, the Hamburg base camp. The former industrial facility is located in the south-west of Hamburg, a short route march from Altona railway station. At one time, the sets for the Altona Theatre were built in this shed. The brothers made the roof watertight, painted the paint-splashed walls white, hung up brightly coloured garlands of lights and set up their mobile kitchen in the middle. In front of it is a long table, nicely laid with flowers, wine glasses and serviettes. It holds covers for 18 people today.
One of them is the well-known Hamburg cookbook author Stevan Paul, a friend of Kitchen Guerilla's. The culinary success of the evening will be decided by his palate: Paul returned recently from a trip to Portugal and has the taste of bacalau, caldo verde and pastéis de nata still on his lips, so to speak. In contrast, only one of the hosts, Onur, has been in Portugal, once, and that's a long time ago. Nevertheless, it's high time for the brothers to take on its national cuisine, after all, Hamburg has been home to a large Portuguese community, with its own Portuguese quarter close to the port, since the 1970s.
The brothers went out into the meadow and shot the Galloway cow themselves
Koral is gutting the sardines. You can see how fresh the merchandise is just by looking at it. “They come from the Atlantic, off the coast of Galicia. They're wild caught,” he explains. Onur adds: “We work with small dealers that we know well. Our vegetables come from Hamburg farmers. We've also leased a vegetable garden of our own on Hof Eggers, a farm in Bergedorf”. The origin of the ingredients is important to them. Especially when it comes to meat. They shot the Galloway cow they're using in the kitchen themselves, in a northern German meadow, and later butchered her. “We hung up our Marianne on an industrial crane here in the warehouse and cut her up. After that she was buried on a cooking evening at the St. Pauli Church, in our stomachs”. The sausages that will be served tonight came from Marianne as well.
Onur is preparing a chutney on the mobile induction hob. Chunks of pumpkin and apple are simmering in raspberry vinegar, lemon juice, chilli, fennel seeds and coriander seeds. He strews salt and pepper over the mix, a delicious aroma rises from it, sweet-sour with a hot note. Beside the brothers, their kitchen crew members are chopping the vegetables for the main course. Alex, 28, used to cook at the Café Paris and has been Kitchen Guerilla's chef de cuisine for a month now. Andi, 23, is training as an event manager. “With cooking and washing up as his special subjects,” Alex jokes.
A deconstructed Portuguese nata
In the final hours before the event, things get more hectic in the kitchen. The team is creating six courses: rock oysters, then dried cod cakes, pimped Nordic style, with cod and pumpkin chutney, followed by fried sardines in a beer batter with aioli and a classic one-pot dish with beans, chorizo, lentils and clams. After that there's a grilled miniature farm: Iberian pork, lamb and home-made beef sausages. Those with room for more can enjoy a deconstructed Portuguese nata: fried flaky pastry, vanilla cream and berry ice cream.
Behind the Kitchen Guerilla scenes
“Lads, I'm making the beer batter,” calls Koral and gets out his smartphone. “750 grams of flour, 600 grams of beer, ten eggs, a pinch of salt,” he reads out. “Now multiply up … oh, to heck, I'll do it by eye!” It's all going too slowly for him. What's more, the wholesaler has delivered the wrong chorizo. He curses in Turkish, shooting out his commands alternately in German and Spanish. Koral, at 37, is the elder of the two brothers. They grew up in Turkey, went to school in Istanbul. After leaving school he first went to Argentina, then decided to study in Europe. His choice was Hamburg.
“I was totally infatuated with Hamburg before I ever fell in love with a woman for the first time,” says Koral. He raved to his brother about the cosmopolitan yet manageable seaport till he finally moved to Hamburg as well. Koral studied product design, Onur business administration. They lived in Altona and had jobs in the food trade on the side. When a corner pub came available for lease in their neighbourhood, they took over the business. They stood behind the counter together for seven years.
“But at some point I was fed up with working nights,” says Koral. At this time, he often experimented on new recipes in the kitchen at home, with Olaf Deharde. “We met for cooking sessions at my pad in the Friedensallee and invited friends for dinner”. This mixture of creative cooking and homeliness felt just right, he says. When Kitchen Guerilla was launched, another crucial component was added: the unusual choice of venues. All of a sudden, as self-employed Guerilleros, they were cooking on the old fishing boat Catarina in the HafenCity or in a disused distillery.
In a sense, the brothers are following in their parents' footsteps. “They're not trained chefs either, one's an urban planner and the other an economist,” says Koral. Their father ran a restaurant in Ankara in which mezze was served to live music. Their mother established a similar concept in Istanbul – for the love of good food, as Koral says. However, their parents handed down more to the brothers than the culinary spirit. “They were revolutionaries who already had several military putsches and periods of imprisonment behind them in Turkey”. As a sign of respect for the spirit of resistance their parents had shown, Onur and Koral called their own company Kitchen Guerilla.
Koral and Onur both have families of their own now. They also run the Focacceria Bonassola in the hip district of Ottensen and Facebook's staff restaurant in Neustadt. “There's a lot to do. I sleep five or six hours a night and have a 70-hour working week,” says Koral. “My wife and our father are also involved in a lot of our projects”. Such close family ties have their pros and cons: “You know each other inside and out and can trust each other. But you can also really get on each other's nerves. Particularly if, like me, you've got a tendency to be provocative. I mean, hey, we're brothers”.
An hour before the meal, Onur can finally change down a gear. “We're well on time. Let's have a pale ale,” he suggests, and opens a bottle with the handle of a kitchen knife. Koral is just tasting the one-pot when Til Schweiger's face lights up on his mobile phone display. The actor opened a restaurant in the city centre a week ago. Koral and Onur are providing culinary advice and helping him to choose staff. He needs their help tonight: he's down two service staff members. Koral immediately organises replacements.
The first guests are arriving. Koral opens the oyster shells. His face goes red with effort, his fingertips turn white. For a vegetarian guest he drizzles cubes of cucumber with teriyaki sauce and vodka, and places the results in an oyster shell. It's like wrapping tofu around a bone, but it looks good. Koral is whizzing around the kitchen, Onur sits down with the guests, talks, embraces, toasts with his wineglass. Wine dealer Hendrik Thoma, the evening's second host, recites from Portuguese history by candle-light. The brothers only interrupt him when they announce the next course: “Next up is southern-style mayo!” says Koral, laying the sardines on a bed of aioli. Towards midnight, the guests' stomachs are full and the wine-bottles empty. Another successful culinary event.
Sardines in beer batter – a Kitchen Guerilla recipe
1 kilo sardines
250ml beer (or wine)
Salt and fat
Clean the sardines, leaving the tails on. Make a batter from the other ingredients. Pat the sardines dry and dip each one in the batter, holding it by the back fin. Fry for around 2 to 3 minutes in hot fat, depending on size.
1 egg yolk
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp capers
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp lemon juice
salt to taste
Important: use the ingredients at room temperature and do not use cold eggs. Mix the egg yolk, mustard and lemon juice well. Add the oil, drop by drop at first and then in a thin stream, and blend well using a stick blender. At the end, add the clove of garlic and the capers. Adjust salt to taste and add a little lemon zest.
On the go with Koral and Onur
Doing groceries with the Elcis
22765 Hamburg http://oeko-wochenmarkt.de/maerkte/standorte/ottensen.php