ISTANBUL - You could call it stirring up tensions.

A prominent advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cooked up a simmering controversy with the suggestion that foreign chefs on Turkish television shows are undercover spies.

“The other day I was watching a programme - there was an English guy and an Italian wandering from one village to the next and cooking up dishes to discover the delicacies of Anatolia,” said Yigit Bulut, who advises Erdogan on economic affairs.

“Why are English and Italians wandering round villages in Anatolia and Thrace? What is the point of that? They are collecting a database!” he said in an interview with pro-government A-Haber late on Wednesday.

“Our compatriots are credulous. They open up their doors to them (the foreign cooks), tell them their secrets, say there is a military air base in the corner, a munitions depot, and how to get in and out of a village.” Calling on people to be alert, Bulut added: “And please no-one tell me this is a conspiracy theory or that I am exaggerating!” Several Turkish TV channels employ wide-eyed foreigners to travel the land, expressing astonishment at every stop at the good food and hospitality encountered and Bulut did not say which shows he had in mind.

But Turkish media including the opposition Sozcu said he was likely referring to the show on private NTV “Tastes from Europe to Anatolia” presented by Dutchman Wilco van Herpen and Italian Danilo Zanna.

The show also highlights projects around the country supported by the European Union.

The comments by Bulut come at a time of strained relations between Turkey and the EU, which Erdogan has bitterly accused of failing to show sufficient solidarity in the wake of the July 15 coup bid.

Bulut is a former journalist who first became a advisor to Erdogan in 2013 during his premiership and then moved to the presidency with him after the August 2014 election.

He earned particular notoriety during the 2013 protests against Erdogan’s rule, making a series of bizarre suggestions that the rallies had been organised by German airline Lufthansa or that his opponents were trying to kill the Turkish leader through “telekinesis”.

The extent of the influence of the advice that he dishes out to Erdogan - who has a number of advisors on all issues - is not known.