Jeddah Foods

Interview With Chef Okan Aydemir & Chef Amjad Ghandoor

This year’s Turkish Food Festival is spearheaded by Rosewood’s Executive Chef, Chef Amjad and Guest Chef, Okan Aydemir who came all the way from Turkey to make Rosewood’s Turkish Festival as authentic as possible.

After last year’s success, Chef Amjad made sure that they would make this year’s festival a better one. So how did they do that and what measures did they do to surpass the event last year? Chef Amjad confidently said that the first time you do something is always a learning experience and that is why they continued to study the market in Jeddah and they have discovered that many people here like to travel to Turkey to experience its rich culture and delicious food. They also considered the culture here and what the people in Jeddah or Saudi Arabia love to eat. Some of the favorite foods of the people of Jeddah are doner kebab, iskender kebab, lahmacun, and lochum. To help them achieve this, they brought Chef Okan Aydemir, who is very skilled when it comes to preparing Turkish cuisine.

Chef Okan has traveled to different countries like Abu Dhabi and USA where his culinary expertise has been trained. He makes sure however, that although he has learned different cuisines, his style or stamp is seen in the dishes he makes. He guarantees that they are fresh and that the quality and originality won’t be compromised whenever he cooks.

Here are some of the interesting things these amazing chefs shared and the part where they revealed their secrets in the kitchen is something to be treasured, especially by young, aspiring chefs.

What’s the trademark of Turkish cuisine?

Chef Okan: Tomato paste and yogurt. These are the main ingredients used in Turkish foods. You’ll find these two in almost all the Turkish dishes. One famous food is the kebab. Adana kebab specifically, consists of hand-minced meat, usually less than one year old lamb, fat, and chili flakes. A special knife called zihr is used to do this procedure. Adana kebab came from Ottoman origin.

Chef Amjad: The most famous kebab in the world is from Adana, Turkey. I go to Adana just to eat their kebab.

What’s the difference between Ottoman and Turkish Cuisine?

Many are confused about the two and some interchangeably use them. So what’s the difference?

Chef Okan: Ottoman is more of traditional. Everything is fresh, sweet and healthy. Everything is done traditionally. You’ll see dry fruits like figs and apricots, like the ones we served in the food festival. They use these in almost all their dishes. Turkish cuisine is more like a continuation of Ottoman cuisine but there’s almost tomato sauce and yogurt in every dish. These two are the main ingredients that you will see in Turkish cuisine.

What place in Turkey would you recommend to foreigners in order to experience Turkey at its best?

Chef Okan: If you want to experience Turkey, Istanbul is the place to go. It is like the “heart of Turkey.” It connects all the other regions. Its location makes it a great place for people to see and experience Turkey.

Chef Amjed: Istanbul is like the heart of Turkey. Many people go there to get a job and to find opportunities. So they bring what they have from their cities to Istanbul and it is also connected to Europe and other regions of Turkey.

What five famous Turkish foods would you recommend to people traveling to Turkey?

Chef Okan & Chef Amjad: First is Adana Kebab, a hand-minced meat kebab named after one of the largest cities in Turkey. Second, Turkish Manti; tiny dumplings sauced with yogurt and tomato sauce. Third is the Hunkar Begendi, which literally means the “Sultan’s delight” or “the Sultan liked it” which according to Chef Okan is how it got its name. It is like a beef stew with pureed eggplant. Fourth, the Iskender Kebab, a thinly cut grilled meat with tomato sauce, bread and yogurt. Lastly, is the Midye dolma, mussels stuffed with pilaf rice.

Chef Okan further discussed that the type of dish served in one region vary depending on the available produce in that area. For example, the Aegean or the West side like in Antalya, most of the famous dishes are fish or seafood and people don’t usually eat kebab because fish is what they have there. It is also Turkey’s biggest International sea resort. Izmir, which is on the same region, is famous for olives, there are too many olive trees there, thus, most of the dishes will require olive oil. North side of Turkey is famous for anchovies. So the location and the produce in the place matters in the type of dish made in a city.

The next conversation about work is a very inspiring one for young people who would like to pursue Culinary Arts as a course and chef as profession.

What’s the best thing about being a chef?

Chef Amjad: It gives me the opportunity to learn about different cultures and the opportunity to cook for other people. A chef should not just cook, but he must understand the culture of the people he is going to cook for.

How do you handle people and pressure in the kitchen/at work?

Chef Amjad: It is important to know the culture of other people if you want to work effectively with them.  Some nationalities don’t like this, others don’t like that. You have to know how to deal with them so that automatically, they will be loyal to their job. They will be dedicated to what they are doing. Try to explain to the staff in the way that they will understand. Life experience is very important; you have to learn from people as you work with them.

What’s your advice to young, aspiring chefs?

Chef Amjad: You have to love the food. There should be love while you are cooking and while you are working. The emotion should be there as you work. Even if I give you the same recipe, the same ingredients, we will still come up with different results. Don’t do it for the love of money or to finish the job and receive your salary. You have to enjoy cooking. Second, you have to know the culture, know the person who will eat your food. What does he like, what will make him happy. It’s not about the chef or the taste that I like. It is what the customer likes. You have to know his culture and what will satisfy him.

I also don’t stay in a place for more than five years. It is good for the company and good for me. It is a choice. You cannot stay the same as a chef; you have to learn something new. It will benefit the company to have new blood, like new set of eyes to make it better. It is a healthy move for chefs to move not more than five years, not less than 2-3 years. It will give him new experiences, new surroundings, a different environment that will make him create different things. It will help him get inspiration from the changes he can see around him. If you don’t move, you will be old-fashioned. You have to keep up with the changes of the modern times.

Chef Okan: Trust yourself. Be confident that you can do it. Second, you have to like what you are doing and you have to like what you are cooking, because if you can’t eat it or if you don’t like it, how will the customer like it? Don’t serve it, if you yourself don’t like it.

How do you want people to remember this year’s Turkish Food Festival?

Chef Okan: Everyone can make a Turkish food, open the internet, follow the recipe, but it will be different. That’s why I’m here. I want them to remember the delicious and traditional flavor of Turkey. I want people who will come here bring that flavor of Turkey with Him after dining here.

Chef Amjad: I want them to “feel at home.” I want them to feel as if they are in Turkey. If you book a ticket to Turkey, you’ll need more time and money. If you book here, you’ll feel you are eating in Istanbul.

There are many Turkish people in Jeddah, and Chef Amjad and Chef Okan, would like them, along with the other people of Jeddah to experience the real taste of Turkish food. They want people to experience the rich culture that Turkey has. The teaming up of these two chefs created a great fusion of different personalities that somehow collaborated well in preparing for the entire festival. One is young and adventurous; the other is well-experienced and vibrant in the hall.  Both worked hard to give us the best of Turkey in Jeddah.  

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