Inspiration by Turkey, Food by Mark McDonald, Wine by Sardegna.

Chef Mark McDonald in TurkeyFood and wine are some of the most influential components of any journey for me.  It is the flavors, color and aromas of the things we feed ourselves that begin to define any foreign experience.  These are the real souvenirs of any vacation- the lasting impressions of real life in other places.

When I learned Chef Mark McDonald of Old Vine Cafe would be  travelling to Turkey on a food-focused Culinary exchange, I knew he would come home with some amazing new creations.

Drying Peppers in TurkeyChef Mark was a cultural ambassador for the US on this recent trip, as well as a student of Turkish food and cooking.  He recently implemented a new Tasting Menu at Old Vine Cafe, which reflects some of the techniques he learned, as well as an array of new Middle-Eastern spices and aromatic inflections.

One of my favorite dishes is a simple stew of goat’s milk yogurt, lentils and chick peas.  Chef Mark infuses fresh mint into olive oil for a grassy green component.  It’s refreshing and homey, and totally unexpected from an American chef with Italian training!

Goat's Milk Yogurt Stew

Mark also channels real Turkish home-style comfort food with his Pazi Sarmasi: Swiss Chard stuffed with spiced ground veal, served over freshly-made hummus.

Pasi Sarmazi @Old Vine Cafe

What does an Italian-trained chef pair with all this Middle-Eastern savory spice?  I was ecstatic to learn he and his Sommelier Mario Miranda found inspiration in Southern Italy.  Gostolai is one of my favorite wineries.  They produce authentic, artisan wines in Sardegna from indigenous varietals like Vermentino and Cannonau.  For example, this stuffed Swiss Chard was brilliant with the Cannonau, which sings with acidity and matches the dish with depth or flavor, sapidity and fine, chewy tannins.

Nepente di Oliena, Cannonau, Gostolai

It’s no surprise that Chef Mark McDonald is an expert in cross-cultural experiences.  Every year he takes a group of people to Southern Italy to experience the undiscovered beauty of Calabria and Sicilia.  There may still be a few spaces open– this is guaranteed to be an experience of a lifetime.

Chef Mark McDonald in Turkey

You might not be able to visit the Middle East tomorrow, but stop by Old Vine Cafe and you can have a small taste.

*For more information on Chef Mark McDonald’s Culinary Tour of Southern Italy, please contact him directly: 714-655-6142,