Q: When did your culinary journey start?
A: Professionally, I started working in my father’s restaurants in Singapore back in 1993. We had four restaurants, but I chose not to continue them when my father passed away.
Q: Why did you become a chef? Was it always your passion?
A: When I was growing up, we always gathered on weekends at my grandparents’ house, and we’d have a huge family lunch. I have 45 cousins and nine uncles. We’d slaughter a whole lamb, literally, to feed my family! Everyone helped out making salad, marinating the meat and grilling it. Food has always been central to me. It’s not just something to fill your stomach; it’s a place of joy. I love every aspect of it, from preparing it, serving it and seeing the joy on peoples’ faces. For me, food is life, life is food.
Q: How is the Turkish food culture different than other cultures?
A: In our culture food doesn’t wait for us, we wait for food. This is how you appreciate food.
When we get together to eat, it’s never half an hour for a quick meal. Our breakfast is one hour. You cannot miss your breakfast; breakfast is when you start your day with your family, with the people that you love. You don’t grab your sandwich and go. Our dinner is at least two to three hours. You work for 12 hours a day. If you tell me that don’t have an hour for food, I feel sorry for you.
Q: What’s your cooking philosophy?
A: I believe in simple techniques, because this is how I was taught by my mother and grandmother. Taste is the most important, presentation is secondary. You can have gold cutlery and diamond goblets; it does not make any difference.
Q: Which countries have you been to in your career and which is your favourite?
A: Turkey, Singapore and Indonesia, and I can safely say I love Indonesia! I love the country and the food. There is so much variety of food and heritage, and the people are so friendly. Every part of Indonesia is so different but everyone is so harmonious. Indonesia is beautiful.
Q: What’s one dish first-time visitors to Turkuaz must try?
A: You can’t come to Turkuaz and only try one dish, we have 100 dishes. Turkish cuisine is not like other cuisines where you order an appetiser and a main and eat by yourself, it’s something that you need to share. We are not a fine-dining restaurant; we are a family fine-food restaurant. Every dish we do here is freshly cooked. We cut our salad, grill our meat and bake our bread to order. I can guarantee you that nobody makes fresher food than we do in Indonesia.
Q: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d do?
A: That’s a really tough question, I’ve actually never thought about it. When I was growing up, I helped my mother in the kitchen. Cooking is about the love and care you put into the food, and the joy you see on your guests’ faces, that’s what makes me happy. Anyone can make money. I can work at a hotel or work in an office to make money, but I’d never do that. Even if I had to sell satay by the side of the road, I think I’d still be cooking.
Q: What advice would you give aspiring chefs?
A: That we’re only cooking, we’re not constructing a space shuttle to go to the moon. It’s simple; you don’t need a fancy degree to cook. I don’t have a degree and I speak four languages, own two restaurants and have 90 people working for me. As long as you have the will and discipline, you will be successful. My job is to educate, to pass on knowledge and skills. Anyone willing to learn and put in the hard work is always welcome to join my restaurant. If you think it’s difficult, I started as a dish washer. That’s the best way to learn, from zero.
Firinda Kuzu Incik
12-hour wood oven-baked lamb shank with baked mushroom, shallots and garlic
- 500g lamb shank
- Cumin powder
- Black pepper
- Chilli flakes
- Dried thyme
- Whole shallots
- Whole garlic
- 700ml hot water
- 25g butter
- White mushrooms
- Cherry tomatoes
- Rub half the herbs and spices on lamb shank and place in a Dutch oven.
- Leave it in wood oven for 10-12 hours.
- Remove from wood oven and set aside.
- Heat butter in frying pan and pan fry mushrooms for one minute.
- Add a ladleful of stock from the lamb shank, and add cherry tomatoes to pan. Season with salt, black pepper and boil for three-four minutes.
- Drain pan and move mushrooms and cherry tomatoes onto a tray.
- Set tomatoes in mushrooms.
- Place lamb shank on tray, rub on the rest of the herbs and spices.
- Place in oven for 10 minutes; serve with butter rice or couscous.