The mezze culture, being the symbol of brotherhood and friendship tables from Mediterranean to Aegean, has become a taste category that has started spread to every continent for the last 10 years. The “Mezze Festival” organized in Akra Hotel in Antalya takes place in a fair-like atmosphere accompanied by fascinating recipes of 18 famous chefs.
How did mezze culture rapidly become a trend in Turkey?
We have been very passionate about mezzes from the beginning. Twenty years ago, we rolled up our sleeves firstly with Zarifi Restaurant to carry the mezze to decent, modern and high-quality spaces. Then came Okka in 2007. Then by Tapu Alacati in 2008, and Duble Meze & Bar in 2012, we became a leader in the process of fusing and re-trending this culture.
What was the inspiration that made the International Mezze Festival, which will be held for the third time in Akra Barut this year, to be realized? What target does it proceed by?
Akra Barut Hotel has always been the space where we, as gastronomists, enjoy the most. Whatever we request in Akra, we always get the answer “Yes”. As long as it is acceptable. We requested the most fatty Alaskan salmon, and it was supplied. We requested a special couverture from a chocolatier in Brussels, and it was supplied. We requested 37 kinds of high-quality breads at the open buffet, and they were supplied. We requested to organize an international mezze festival, which has not been organized until now, and the next day the meetings were initiated. There have been many events, which are so-called festivals, in recent years. However, we did not want to rely on our background in this respect and make an ordinary organization. We organized a festival that is worthy of the definition of international by bringing together gastronomy experts of Turkey and hosting foreign enterprises and chefs. Our festival hosts taste spots of not just Mediterranean gastronomy, but also Turkish and whole Mediterranean cuisine regarding mezze. We strive to make this organization a traditional value rather than a trend festival. In this way, we evoke the name of Turkey and Antalya in all gastronomy platforms through international press.
What kind of a program waits taste lovers this year at the festival where you host world-famous chefs and gastronomy experts? Are there going to be any special innovations for this year?
The program will include pleasant eating, drinking and tasting alternatives again. The contents of the program are clarified within this process. Therefore, the details of the organization of this year is not clear yet at this stage. We are finalizing the agreements with the chefs.
Gastronomy has grown rapidly over the years and has become a huge industry. Cooking has become a trend in the world today. At the beginning of the business, have you foreseen the progress it would make and where it is positioned today?
I decided to become a cook in 1987. I finished my education in 1993 and became a chef in 1997. What the people found the most strange about me in those years was that I wore a white apron after studying at two of the top five schools in the world, such as Lausanne Hotel Management and Glion Food and Beverage Management. However, in the last 20 years, becoming a chef has become a profession that is stylish as much as being an actor or a rock star is. Now we can see a number of sector employees, not being a chef, wearing aprons. We are talking about a sector that responds to several concepts such as health, happiness, intelligence, power, productivity, peace, socialization and experiencing. The concept of “gastronomic tourist”, which takes precedence over history, sports and cultural tourism, actually addresses each of the tourism category. For example, we go to the terrace of Akra Asmani Restaurant. Honeymoon tourists, bicycle riders, business people, people from Antalya eat together there. Having sub-categories such as luxury, street taste and local, gastronomy is a category that tempts every tourist. A sector with such a growth potential requires qualified human resources. Today everyone wants to be a chef to wear that white apron and due to its game-like content. However, we need personnel for dining hall and service. If we meet this need and proceed with concept consultants, a market with 50-60 billion Euros is waiting for Turkey.
''The Success Of Asia Is Worthy Of Compliment''
The world knows Turkish cuisine as a rich cuisine with interesting details. Where do we stand on the world stage in this respect? What do you think about future?
Turkey proceeds to an extreme point in art of meat. There is no other country that produces about 150 separate recipes from a meat. This experience just started to spread to the world. I think that Turkey will rank in the top three in the world along with Argentina and the United States with respect meat. However, as what Chef Vedat Basaran says, new generation Turkish chefs unfortunately have problem in innovation styling. Chefs should determine the style of creativity and inspiration, and this must not be a copy. For example, Japanese cuisine was highly inward-oriented and a rare cuisine 30 years ago. However, Japanese started the globalization process by positioning niche products such as sushi. They focused on an innovative culinary style based on high-income group in general that is an innovative culinary style that delights the Western palate. Including aromatic spices, cooking techniques and intense, delicious sauces, this culinary style has become an easy to eat and digest style, which is visually rich and goes with alcohol. Today, Asian concepts, which can enable branching out in the “fine casual fine dining” market and serve the top segment in the world, represent a market worth half billion Euros. Such style should be determined by the same point of view also in Turkey and we should set off.
What are the major determinants of success in the kitchen?
Discipline, following, research, creativity… But most importantly, talent. Just as everyone studying art cannot become a successful painter, not everyone who has knowledge of gastronomy can shine out.
How do you manage time in this field where timeliness plays a very important role?
In fact, time management is not different than being a pilot, driver, tennis player or hunter. Each profession has its own sense of momentum. In our business, many parameters such as flavor, smell, taste, image, hygiene and temperature come into play during the production and serving of a menu with 80 products. The works proceed with knowledge, experience and focusing.
You also wrote a book beside the consultancy you offer in this field. How long did it take to publish “Tapuoloji”?
“Tapuoloji” is an innovative stylelessness book that is based on delicious recipes without any rules. The editing, demos and research of this book, where I described a style consisting of old Turkish-style products such as black mulberry, yogurt, pickles, which gives the impression of local cuisine, took a year.
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