CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! with ALPER UZUNDURUKAN
Chef Alper Uzundurukan’s journey into the food world was one of fate and he had never looked back. He started in a small Italian café in Turkey and worked his way into the kitchens of some of the best restaurants ranging from Japanese to modern Turkish, French and Mediterranean. He has jumped off a plane (sky diving) and dived to the depths of the ocean (deep sea diving) and yet he seems to have his feet firmly on land. When he talks, you feel that he enjoys what he does and for the moment he is happy with where life has brought him. And this contentment I am sure comes through in the flavours of every dish.
Name: Alper Uzundurukan
From: Istanbul, Turkey
Culinary School: Mengen Chef School, Bolu, Turkey
Knife Hand: Right
Instagram: @alperuzundurukan/ @dustysdubai
Were you a good kid, did you eat your veggies as a child?
When I was a kid I hated aubergine. But other than I ate everything my mom cooked. But when I left home at 14 to join chef school they gave me aubergine two times a week which I had to eat in order to survive.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
When I was about 9 or 10, I wanted to be an actor. I was in the theatre club of my elementary school and I loved seeing people happy watching our shows. But as a kid, I always wanted to see other places. After elementary school students have to take a quiz based on which the government offers you admission to different schools. For me all the schools that I was offered were in Istanbul and the only one not in the city was a culinary school – and as I wanted to see a different place – that is the one I chose.
For the first year they teach you English and the basics and then in year two they start teaching you to cook and every summer the school sends you to a five star hotel to be trained. As soon as I stated my first summer of training in a hotel in South Turkey when I was 15 years old, I fell in love with the kitchen.
What was your most memorable restaurant job?
This has got to be with Chef Izu Ani at La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie at Vida Hotel. Opening La Serre with Chef Izu was my first job in Dubai in 2013. Chef Izu opened my mind – after I met and worked with him, I started to think better, I started to see better, I started to cook better – my mentality changed. Chef Izu did not hide anything and always encouraged us to grow and improve.
What did you have for dinner last night?
I had an early dinner of chicken curry and rice made by one of my amazing chefs in the kitchen at Dusty’s.
Place you eat most often on days off?
I like junk food – by that I mean street food. I love sandwiches and always eat a sandwich at Charley’s Philly Steaks – I think they are very very good. I especially love their Italian Deli Deluxe (Turkey, chicken, pepperoni and white cheese and Italian seasoning). I also like eating at Salt food truck at Kite Beach and love their beef burger.
What has been your most embarrassing cooking moment?
Oh that was at the opening of Zuma in Istanbul. I was working with Japanese chefs who were very traditional and professional in the sushi section. I was about 18 years old and did not speak much English and they would push me everyday and it was my first experience with Japanese cuisine. They gave me the responsibility of ordering and following up on the fish orders from the suppliers for sushi as this was in Turkey and I spoke Turkish. One day I forgot and we did not receive the fish the next day. So early in the morning I had to take a taxi and went to the fish market and bought fish from different vendors. But coming back was a big problem as there was no taxi driver willing to take me with all that fish. So, I had to call a friend who came and picked me and the fish up and took me back to Zuma – by then it was about 11am and I had only one hour to clean and portion all the fish and it was a disastrous day. After this, I don’t think I have ever forgotten to place an order for fish.
What’s your favourite ingredient/ condiment to work with?
Seafood and more specifically Sea Bream. I love it when it is fresh – I can serve it raw, either cooked or semi-cooked – you can do so much with it. Personally, I can eat any version of Sea Bream.
If it’s the last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in and what are you eating?
I will take my wife, Ismet back to Istanbul and with our families I will cook for them a big meal. I would cook traditional Turkish food like Imam Bayildi (stuffed eggplant), variations of mezzes and a chose a good bottle of wine.
If you left Dubai to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
I think I will go back to South Turkey and open my own food truck serving street food – but it will be Turkish.
Who is the person you would most like to cook for and what would you cook them?
I would have loved to have cooked for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the founder of the Republic of Turkey. From the books I have read about him, he liked to eat mezze and I would cook food that he could eat with his raki (grape brandy flavored with anise) – he was always drinking it.
What is the dish on the menu you eat most?
Tenderloin Steak sandwich because it my guilty pleasure – it has bacon in it, cheese, jalapeño in it, caramelized onion, mayonnaise – my total go to unhealthy meal.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
Honest. My menu doesn’t really surprise my guest. What they see on the menu they get exactly that. When they read about a mushroom sauce, I make sure they can feel and taste the mushroom. What you see is what you get.
How do you cope with failure – when something doesn’t go the way you’ve planned?
I first try and understand why something has not gone my way. I then focus on the reason and try and resolve it. Also communication – that is the most important thing in the kitchen.
If you were an ingredient what would you be, and why?
I think I will be a Striploin – a little bit tough.
Best culinary tool? My knives. They are an extension of my hands and I really take good care of them.
A chef that inspires you? Chef Grant Achatz. His story is very interesting. He opened this restaurant called Alinea in Chicago with the aim to be one of the best in the world. Despite his illness (tongue cancer) and treatment he still manged to come in the top 10 restaurants within the year. He never gave up his kitchen during his illness – he had 5 hours of chemotherapy and 10 hours of work everyday. Today he is still one of the best chefs in the world.
Favourite cuisine? For the last one year it has been Indian cuisine because of Chef Gaggan Anand. I have never met him but I watch him and read about him. My Indian chefs at Dusty’s cook indian food for me and I have at least one Indian meal a day.
What’s your favourite comfort food? Kebab – traditional lamb kebab.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given? On my last day of working with him, Chef Izu Ani told me to do things that I was sure were right.
Would you rather be a waiter or a dishwasher? A dishwasher. It has more action and you are more likely to become a chef one day.
Worst thing about being a chef is… You always have to think about work.
Best thing about being a chef is… You always make people happy, people smile.
What’s your favourite curse word to use in the kitchen? The F-word
What is the one cooking tip you swear by? Always rest your meat after you cook it for about five minutes – that way it does not get dry – and then you reheat it and then eat it. If you eat it straight of a pan, it will be a bit chewy.
THIS OR THAT
Curly fries or regular fries?
Hot sauce or barbecue sauce?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Rice or Mash?
Soup or salad?
Lunch, Breakfast or Dinner?
Fried egg, omelette, or scrambled?
Crème brûlée or molten chocolate cake?
Ketchup or mayonnaise?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Baked or fried?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
And lastly, cake or pie?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!