Feray Aydogdu: Spreading sweetness
Applying philosophy to life.
Covid-19: Interview with Feray Aydogdu, Chef and owner of Tonka Patisserie in the Turkish town of Datça (near Bodum). Feray, a former philosophy student, shares her unique thoughts on her recent experiences.
Feray, we first spoke together in November 2019 and wrote an article on your career when you became a Les vergers Boiron Ambassador. At the time, you were working hard on building Tonka Patisserie in the small seaside town of Datça in southern Turkey near Bodrum, after having been an Executive Pastry Chef in some of Istanbul’s most prestigious hotels and having participated in international pastry championships. Before that, you had been a Philosophy student at Galatasaray, Turkey and Saint-Petersburg, Russia. Your decision to radically change your lifestyle and take on new challenges impressed me at the time. How has the Covid-19 crisis affected the way you feel about your choices?
For a long time, I was really a city girl and when I decided to leave Istanbul just over three years ago, I had three ideas in mind: to open my own pastry shop, have a garden and swim in the sea as often as possible. While it meant working long hours and dealing with the pressure of running a small business, I have never regretted my decision and, during the Covid lockdown, I have lived the best and most meaningful times of my life. We were ordered to shut down by the authorities with one hour’s notice. For two days, I stayed at home and tried to get my bearings and then I decided I needed to do something for my town since I was the only person still working. People shut themselves in and so I started posting positive messages and putting recipes online for people to make themselves treats at home. My philosophy was to spread sweetness. People responded very quickly and, when they started to come out, they stopped by my shop to talk and share things with me. I felt I was like a bartender and a psychologist for them, allowing them to share their thoughts and fears. Many of them brought me fruits and herbs from their garden, saying they thought I could make better pastries than them. I began to sell pastries to take away and was supported by so many people. One time, I needed Physalis (Cape berries) to decorate some pastries but couldn’t get any. I posted a request on Instagram and an older lady realized she had some in her garden but had never known what they were. She brought me some, really proud of herself. I only regretted I couldn’t see the smiles behind the masks.
So, from these experiences, what was the major change you felt?
Everything, really. The relationships were totally transformed. For example, instead of people coming to buy my pastries, they brought me food and their home-made baking to ask me how they could make it better. I explained to them how to get the best taste out of their ingredients, using less sugar for example, and trying new combinations. They also bought my daily creations to treat themselves, but clearly also to support me. One day, a diabetic man came to buy my three new cakes he had seen on one of my posts. I told him I could not sell them to him because they contained sugar. He insisted and said he would give them to some children in the neighborhood whose families can rarely afford pastries. I also sold bread and coffee from a shop nearby that had just opened and was forced to close down and so I became a kind of community food center.
How did your background as a philosopher affect the way you lived through this period?
Indeed, it did. First, I was able to read and reflect more during this period and, having studied Sartre and Dostoyevsky for my Master’s degree, it helped me to take an “existentialist” view on life and destiny. My main source of inspiration was Mevlana, a 13th century Persian Sufi mystic poet and philosopher (often referred to as the Dante or Shakespeare of Islam), who believed in the use of music, poetry and dance as a way of transcending the world and spreading love. He helped me to find inner peace and inspired me in my relations with people around me. You know, I stopped studying philosophy because I found it was too abstract and adopted pastry-making as a way of doing something real. During the crisis, the two came together in my mind, breaking down the barriers and the structures we often lock ourselves into. One thought that helped me was that when your lifer is upside down, how do you know for sure that the upside was better than the downside? It was truly the case this spring, when the negative allowed me to experience some of the most positive moments of my life and, in the future, I hope to apply this more relative way of thinking to my life in the future.