Chef of the Month: Chef Fatih Tutak

We’re delighted to feature Chef Fatih Tutak on Chef’s Pencil. He is the head chef and owner of TURK, the highest-rated Michelin restaurant in Türkiye. Following his extensive career, which spanned six countries and included stints at some of the best restaurants in the world (including Noma, The Dining Room of The House of Sathorn, and Nihonryori Ryugin), Chef Fatih Tutak returned home to open Türkiye’s top restaurant.

1. What inspired you to become a chef?

My passion for gastronomy started at a young age. I would watch my mother cook and go with her to our local market to buy ingredients. Once I started copying what she did in the kitchen, I was hooked.

It was a clear choice for me to go to culinary school. I then developed my technical skills, personal style, and palate while I travelled and worked throughout Asia and encountered an exciting mix of cultures.

2. Tell us a bit about your work at TURK. What’s the concept and what’s the inspiration for this season’s menu?

TURK has been my homecoming. After spending many years away from Türkiye, I decided that I needed to return to my roots and reconnect with the cuisine and culture of my country. We are pioneering a ‘New Turkish Cuisine’. With research into gastronomic traditions, we create dishes that look to the past so we can push into the future. For example, tarhana is a type of soup base unique to Turkish cuisine.

It is made by fermenting and drying peppers, tomatoes, yogurt, flour, and legumes. It is a technique that has been used for centuries and, at TURK, we apply it to alternative produce such as wild mushrooms.

This takes the flavor profile of the product to the maximum level, producing a deep umami paste that can be used as a seasoning rather than as a soup. There is a sense of the familiar that is always paired with the unexpected.

3. TURK is the only restaurant in Türkiye to have received two Michelin stars and has been named the best restaurant in Türkiye several times. What did that mean to you, and what keeps you motivated?

It’s a great honor. I am incredibly proud of my team for this achievement. TURK has brought Turkish cuisine to the international stage. We are always pushing for more, and to do this I have to challenge myself to create something new every day. By researching and staying curious about different techniques and ways to use produce, I can push my creativity further.

4. What role do cultural heritage and storytelling play in your cooking?

Turkish cuisine tells the story of our nation. Often I use ingredients that have fallen out of favor such as a dry-aged native duck, which comes from recipes of the Ottoman Empire. At TURK we dive into tradition and reintroduce the past to our guests to show the evolution of Turkish gastronomy.

Aegean baby squid, rice and garlic by Chef Fatih Tutak
Aegean baby squid with rice and garlic; Photo credit: Chef Fatih Tutak (@turkfatihtutak)

5. Do you have a signature dish?

Our menu is always changing with the seasons so it is hard to choose a signature dish. However, a dish I created which means a lot to me is ‘For My Mom’. It is a version of my mother’s manti, a type of Turkish dumpling.

Not only did I love it as a child, but the first time I made it as a chef was for a guest in Singapore and their emotional reaction to the nostalgic flavors encouraged me to move back to Türkiye to cook the food of my people.

6. You’ve spent a great part of your career in Asia. What is the biggest difference between the fine-dining scene in Asia compared to Europe?

Like many chefs, I spent a large part of my youth travelling and learning, mostly in Asia. It is a very exciting continent, the variation in cultures and cuisines is inspiring. I lived for a while in Qingdao (a city in Shandong Province) where the cuisine is very light, uses small quantities of oil, and focuses on fresh seafood and vegetables.

In contrast, Thailand is totally rock and roll, from the spices to the pure strength of the flavors they use, the food just punches you in the face.

Mackerel, tire eggplant, oscietra caviar, ebru; Dish by Chef Fatih Tutak;

7. What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

Probably my last visit to the UK. The highlight was dining at The Fat Duck in Bray. The entire experience of this restaurant was mind-blowing.

8. What’s a must-try traditional Turkish dish that everyone should try when visiting Türkiye?

When walking through Istanbul, try stuffed mussels. They are typical street food, and vendors selling them are everywhere. Mussels are stuffed with aromatic and spiced rice and paired with a glass of beer.

We have our own version at TURK, Mussel Dolma, embedded between two edible mussel shells. And some of my favorite restaurants for traditional Turkish food are: Kiyi Restaurant for mezze and seafood or Adana Ocakbasi Kurtulus for Ocakbasi Kebap.

9. What is the most underrated food destination?

The Xinjiang province in China. The cuisine in the city of Kasghar is an undiscovered goldmine.

Mussel Dolma
Mussels Dolma, Photo credit: Chef Fatih Tutak

Restaurant: TURK by Fatih Tutak
Instagram: @fatih_tutak

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