Chef Interview: Omur Akkor
I believe you used money your family gave you to learn English to start a restaurant instead — when was this, and why was opening a restaurant so important to you?
Honestly, I am quite surprised you actually know this about me. It was the last year of university in 2002. Why did I want to open a restaurant? I wanted to do it the whole time I was studying; I knew this job was meant for me. I believe that everyone should go after the things they love, and this was something I loved. My family originally wanted me to become a prefect, and it took five years for me to convince them that this is what I wanted to do.
Were you trained in the culinary arts, or did you learn it from your family, or somewhere else?
I am actually an economics graduate, but my interest in cooking started with a natural instinct. I am from Gaziantep, and Gaziantep is one of the most gastronomical cities of Turkey, where there is constant cooking going on in houses — and in huge amounts. For example, on Sundays, the father of the family goes to the kitchen and makes kebabs. And you as a child are there to help him out every weekend. When you are around 5–6 years old, you wash vegetables, you peel them when you’re 8–10, start making the salad when you’re 12–13, marinate the meat at 15–16 years of age. When you’re 18, one day your father won’t go in the kitchen and you’ll make the salad, marinate the meat, put it on the fire and make the kebab yourself.
In your opinion, how popular is Turkish cuisine around the world? Is there anything that should be done to improve its popularity?
Unfortunately Turkish cuisine is perceived as consisting of only doner and kebab. It’s being marketed as if these are the only things that exist, and this damages the image of Turkish cuisine. And because no one really keeps track of our food, it’s not very well known outside of Turkey. I am especially trying hard for this [to happen]. Right now my books are translated to seven languages and being sold in more than 50 countries. Other than that, I try to travel and promote Turkish cuisine in different countries, just as I am with my current visit to Qatar to W Doha.
What are the three ingredients you absolutely cannot cook without?
Black pepper, sea salt and a good oil, whether it’s olive oil or butter. I will also need to add tomato and garlic. If I have those five, I can make a delicious dish for you.
What projects are you working on right now?
Five more books of mine were published in Turkey, and by the end of the year there will be four more. I am working with Komili and Pinar, two of the most important food companies in Turkey. I teach at university, my TV shows are ongoing, and I write articles for 10 magazines every month. I am working with some charitable organisations, especially for the visually impaired, and I am writing and giving teaching glasses to them as well. I honestly don’t know how I can do all of these at once.
What is your advice for chefs who want to start their own restaurant?
This is a difficult life choice. There is a big difference between cooking well and actually running a business. Chefs cook well, but to present the food, sell it and ensure guest satisfaction... this is something more. I’d suggest they take business classes in addition to their culinary training as well as marketing, and if they have time, to study two years of economics.