A relaxed and genial figure, Turan T. Turan is accustomed to the idea that his day job – a fireman – coupled with his hobby – food smoking – causes amusement. “The guys at the station tease me,” he laughs, “My colleagues say why don’t you take food in with you when you go into a fire?!”
Such is Turan’s fascination with food smoking that he runs courses on the subject and is the author of a book on food smoking, a characteristically practical how-to guide. Turan kindly invited me to attend one of his day courses at Hackney City Farm in October 2013. Here I got to see him in action demonstrating how to smoke an assortment of foods, passing on his enthusiasm, which he did with commendable clarity and in an appealingly down-to-earth way. The group of would-be food smokers are transfixed when Turan announces “I’d like to teach you how to smoke food in a cardboard box” and, true to his word, brings out a cardboard box which he has adapted into a smokebox and used as such for three years.
This rooted, humorous approach continues through the day; “We need to use a damper. I use something technical, like a flowerpot!” As a fireman, safety is obviously very important to Turan; “food smoking is an outdoor pursuit” he emphasises, as well as explaining about the need to have a damper to slow down the combustion process. In a fascinating session, he takes us outside and demonstrates by burning various woods the different aromas they have when burnt, from the light sweetness of apple wood to the distinctive scent of hickory. The aromatic fragrance of burning bay shavings (de-barked, dried and planed by Turan) evokes ‘oohs’ of appreciation. It was a fascinating and engaging day, offering a real insight into the principles of hot and cold smoking, hospitably rounded off by a chance to sample all the foods we have watched being smoked, including Turan’s excellent smoked salmon.
Talking to Turan after having seen his practical nature amply demonstrated during the course, I am not surprised to learn that as a boy Turan “had a fascination with how things worked. My dad came into the garage one day and discovered that I’d pulled his red leather radio apart to see how it worked. My hobbies were all about building stuffing and making things.” This hands-on aspect is a theme throughout his life; “I built my first car, built my house.” He began his working life as a sixteen-year-old electrical apprentice. A few years later he applied to London Fire Brigade and has worked there ever since, currently in the position of a Station Manager.
An interest in food has been part of Turan’s life ever since he was a boy growing up in West London. His Turkish Cypriot father worked in the restaurant business all his life – “some of that interest in food rubs off.” Turan’s first attempt at smoking food was, in fact, prompted by a conversation with his father. “It was in the 1990s. He was saying that smoked salmon in the supermarket was a joke and simply didn’t taste nice, so I thought I’m going to have a go at making that. I got a whole salmon, cured it in salt and smoked it in a rudimentary box I’d built. I made a mess of it the first couple of times because I over-salted the fish. I persevered and worked with the tail end fillet until I got it right. You know what, it was the simplest thing. I just used salt, allowed it to cure for a short time, for a tail end typically around 4 hours, then exposed it to smoke for 6-8 hours, which gave it the chance to dry out and firm up, improve the texture. When I carved it and tasted it, my dad said it was the best smoked salmon he’d ever tasted. That meant a lot to me. That’s what got me started on smoking food.” Even now, so many years later, there is a warm pleasure in Turan’s voice as he relives this moment in his memory. “My dad died a couple of years ago and when we were visiting him in hospital we’d take in plates of food because he didn’t like the hospital food. I would bring him smoked salmon on triangles of nice brown bread, served with cracked pepper and slices of lemon. You’d see the people around the ward looking to see what he was eating. My dad would say, ‘This is the smoked salmon my son made. It’s the best smoked salmon in the world.’ It was quite embarrassing!”
Having become interested in food smoking, Turan, in his own words, “got a bit geeky about it!” Asked by a friend to show him how to make a food smoker, he spent 2-3 months putting together the drawings for the food smoker he’d made. “He said I should put them on the Internet and I did. They went online in 2008 and today I must have sold 700 plans. I get photos from people who’ve built the smoker, showing me what they’ve done.” A few years later, Turan was invited to run a course on food smoking at Hackney City Farm, where he has since taught two courses a year ever since.
Although initially rather nervous at the idea of teaching, he obviously relishes the chance to communicate his knowledge. “I love seeing people going oh right, that’s not hard is it? The point I make with the cardboard box is that it is simply an enclosure to hold smoke in an environment where your food is. It doesn’t have to be a very expensive, fancy, stainless steel smoker. To me, demystifying it is very satisfying. Teaching my course gives me pleasure because it means that people will go away and do food smoking for themselves and it will be nice and safe and easy for them to do.”
Details of Turan’s courses can be found on his website: http://www.coldsmoking.co.uk/