2 minutes with Ozge Dönmezoğlu
Occupation: chef at Anason
Lives: Sydney, NSW
Tell us about growing up in Turkey, did you always want to be a chef?
When I was a kid, we used to go to the open markets every weekend with my mother and grandparents. I started to learn all the vegetables and fruits at these markets. We would come home with bags of seasonal vegetables, my mother used to give me all the green beans, borlotti beans, okras and green peas to peel. I wasn’t allowed to go out to play until I finished. I think those markets triggered the first spark although I was not very fond of peeling everything.
Then I start to watch “Ready Steady Cook” even though I didn’t understand English at that age. One day I tried to make caramel dipped strawberries after I saw in an episode, it was the first thing I did in the kitchen. I think I was 7-8 years old. Then I found myself constantly trying new recipes when I come back home from school.
When I finished high school, I tried to get into medical school but I couldn’t. Then I realised that going to medical school was not my decision, but my families. Then I changed my plans and started a long journey of convincing my family to study Gastronomy and Fine Arts. My happiness and success in university and apprenticeships proved to me and my family that we had made the right decision. When I look back now, I can’t see myself doing anything else. So I guess it was meant to be.
What dishes remind you of home?
My mother’s karniyarik which literally translates as "split belly”, stuffed fried eggplant served with rice and yogurt. My father’s menemen, a dish of eggs scrambled until just barely set, mixed with tomatoes, green curly peppers and garlic. My maternal grandmother’s collard dolma and my paternal grandmother’s vine leave dolma. Dolma is a common name for stuffed vegetables.
You have been cooking in Australia for nearly a year now, what differences do you see in the restaurants between Sydney and Istanbul?
As a customer, in Sydney I can find at least five different cuisines in the same street. In Istanbul it is really hard to find good restaurants different than Turkish cuisine. As a chef I can work with staff from other countries and cultures in the same kitchen. Now we have Peruvians, Indonesians, Brazilians, Thai, Turkish, French, Italians and Aussies working all together in the same kitchen. This is really important for information exchange and also for promoting our cuisine.
In Istanbul until the last 10 years people didn’t have a habit of eating in restaurants. They felt eating outside of the home was a luxury and for rich people. Because of that food industry couldn’t grow as it should. Fine dining restaurants have mainly failed in Istanbul. But in Sydney people love dining out and they are curious about what to try next. And that encourages chefs and the owners to take risks and open new restaurants. And in Sydney I know where my ingredients are coming from and they are all local. In Turkey we have almost forgot what local produce is.
What ingredients are always in your kitchen?
Eggplant, yoghurt, cumin, olive oil, butter, garlic, zaatar, feta, tomato, cucumber, fine bulgur, parsley, walnut, red capsicum paste, unripe fig jam and pomegranate molasses. After we moved to Sydney I added passionfruit, lemongrass, and curry powder to that list.
Do you have plans to open your own restaurant?
Yes, I have plans to open a restaurant with my partner someday but we don’t know what or when yet, looking for the right time and concept.
24 hours in Istanbul, where should we eat?
24 hours is not enough, let me make it for three days. Breakfast on the boat with simit and black tea while crossing Bosphorus. Lunch at Ciya, located in the Fish Market district of Kadiköy, renowned for the variety of Anatolian dishes and kebaps. For fine dining Turkish food, diner at Mikla by Mehmet Gürs.
Breakfast next to Bosphorus at Rumeli Hisarı. Lunch at Gram, where you can find seasonal rustic olive oil salads and dishes. Have a sweet break at İnci in Taksim with profiterole. Then balik ekmek fish ‘n bread at the boats on Golden horn in Eminonu region.
Van style breakfast at Cihangir. Karadeniz döner at Beşiktaş for lunch and for the last dinner get drunk at Kumkapi with tasting Turkish meze and raki - the anise flavoured alcoholic drink.
You can follow Ozge on Instagram @ozgedonmezoglu