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Turkey's first 2-Michelin Star Chef Fatih Tutak

Chef Fatih Tutak's love message to Turkish cuisine and tradition, is prepared in his newly opened TURK FATIH TUTAK (December 2019), which earns him 2 stars in the inaugural edition of the MICHELIN Guide Istanbul.

Chef and the team of two Michelin-starred TURK FATIH TUTAK ( Image Duygu Turkmen.

Chef Tutak's successful concept is "Cooking with Time", which entails the importance of both time as a cooking construct - knowing when is best to serve an ingredient at its optimal taste - and time as an indefinite continuation of life and his thirst for creativity. Chef Fatih Tutak, who was born in Istanbul in 1985, has spent the most of his career working in some of the most well-known restaurants in Turkey and abroad, including the Ritz-Carlton Cam in Istanbul under renowned chef Paul Pairet and in the Far East, in Tokyo under Seiji Yamamoto at three Michelin-starred Nihonryori Ryugin, before he was presented with a unique opportunity to join René Redzepi at the much celebrated Noma in Copenhagen.

TURK's menu inspires the guests to fall in love with Turkish cuisine prepared by Chef Fatih Tutak. Dry-aged persimmon, kaymak snow. Image credit Duygu Turkmen.

He then admits to feeling the pull of the East again, and returned to Hong Kong, furthering his techniques and immersing himself in a history and culture that truly fascinated him. A move to Thailand in 2015 saw him open The Dining Room of The House on Sathorn in Bangkok as Head Chef. In just two years it was named in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants (No.36 in 2017) and a Michelin Plate in the Thailand Guide 2018-19.

Chef FATIH TUTAK. Image Ibrahim Özbunar.

"If I don’t find key ingredients, I would have to change the menu, which pushes me to create. It is also why Turkish cuisine is so tasty—because of the creativity of chefs that arises from a demand for variation and the simplicity of ingredients. - Chef FATIH TUTAK.

Chef Tutak credits the pleasure and delight that his mother's delectable food gave to the family table for inspiring him to pursue his job. As a result, he was directed immediately to Mengen, a village in the Bolu Province on the main route connecting Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, which is renowned throughout Turkey for producing some of the best chefs in the nation.

Milk skin, pistachio, yufka. Image credit Duygu Turkmen.'

Where did your passion for Turkish cuisine start?

Chef Fatih Tutak: We wanted to reflect our own perspective on Turkish cuisine and establish TURK as a distinctive dining destination for the nation when we made the decision to open it. Therefore,every aspect has been covered, including architecture, design, music, culinary expression, and beverages. We set out to develop a complete experience cantered on expressing and providing Turkish cuisine. I worked as a cook for a very long time and alongside many excellent chefs.

"Food is precious to us, like a diamond, so we can’t use anything that is unsustainable."

Chef FATIH TUTAK in the kitchen. Image Ibrahim Özbunar.

TURK FATIH TUTAK was launched by you in December 2019. However, the restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars in 2022, in spite of the pandemic and all the restrictions involved. Describe your experience for us.

Chef Fatih Tutak: It was a big challenge, and this restaurant is also a reflection of what I learnt from them. We wanted to offer this cosmopolitan, global, and gourmet side since there are many excellent restaurants in the country, and I respect what they are doing. We wanted to open fantastic restaurants where both local and foreign customers could experience our food and where our staff members could develop professionally from the beginning of their employment. Turkish food has a rich history as well as many facets. Although Turkish BBQ and street food are well-known, they only make up 1% of Turkish cuisine. We decided to do more as a result and present Turkish food at its highest level.

Lamb Saddle, Kebab, Koji, Lamb Garum. Photo credit İbrahim Özbunar.

How would you summarize your time working in renowned restaurants like Noma, or with Chef Seiji Yamamoto in Tokyo, where you spent the most of your career up to your return to Turkey in 2019?

Chef Fatih Tutak: My professional development and growth have greatly benefited from working with such outstanding and well-known chefs. I can use all I've learned about their philosophy, cooking methods, and vision in my own cooking. It was an honour for me to be in their kitchen at such a young period in my career because they are both significant components of my profession. Our goal was to start our own restaurant serving Turkish cuisine. The detail of every single dish is enhanced by complimenting beverages and music. We sought to improve the entire dining experience, and in doing so, I hope to establish a new, universally recognized vocabulary for Turkish cuisine.

Michelin-starred TURK FATIH TUTAK. interiors. Photo credit İbrahim Özbunar.

What are the advantages and benefits of having such a unique destination and work environment as Istanbul?

Chef Fatih Tutak: Istanbul is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, bringing together so many different cultures from the Byzantine, Ottoman, Turk, Armenian, and Kurdish peoples, and its unique history and journey characterize the city. All this gives Istanbul soul and a creative vibe. It's incredibly inspiring everywhere you go, whether you're walking around the city, crossing the bridge between Asia and Europe, or taking a boat. I feel so lucky to have been born and raised here. Every time I take a walk outside or go on a tour of the city, it nourishes my soul, which translates into and is reflected in my cooking.

Umami birthday cake.

Why is it important for you to immerse yourself in other cultures outside your professional comfort zone, and how does this help you to refine your own definition and understanding of gastronomy? you developed an entire menu of "New Turkish Cuisine" and introduced it to the dining room? Please, can you describe this concept?

Chef Fatih Tutak: Turkey has its own cuisine. Thus, we are inspired by many inputs, but we remain true to our Turkish roots, so when you have a dish, you can always discern the taste of Turkish cuisine. In terms of cooking technique, we can apply all cooking techniques, which can be inspired by Danish, German, or French cooking. Cooking techniques are very universal in general.

TURK's open kitchen. Image credit Duygu Turkmen.

The different cooking techniques were developed as a response to the lack of technology that could preserve food. Different salting, fermentation, and preservation techniques were developed around the world. Now we have the technology that helps us cook and apply these ancient cooking processes to new ways of cooking that can enable us to enhance or create new flavors. Using not only fire for cooking but a variety of options In my opinion, Turkish cuisine has no limitations, nor do other cuisines, in terms of the availability that exists today and the inspiration and exchange of ideas that occurs through the internet and modern food preservation and transport. This allows us to create new and beautiful techniques and dishes.

Bluefish, tokat onion, black pepper, buddha's finger. Photo Duygu Turkmen.

Still, we never change the traditional dishes; we need to respect the Turkish tradition, which means we do not copy or replicate them. We have a couple of traditional dishes on the menu now; they are signature dishes of Turkish cuisine, but we don't change them to show them off. If anything, we can improve them by using higher-quality ingredients, improving cooking techniques, and even combining art, science, physics, and entertainment to tell the story of a particular dish.

Egg and beef pastrami. Image credit Eda Ildam.

If food can stimulate our emotions and help us understand our emotional states, is this how you would want to understand and explore the Turkish food in your restaurant?

Chef Fatih Tutak: Food is very sentimental for me because it touches your soul and heart. We hope that all our menu experiences will connect guests to cherished memories, possibly the best gastronomic moments from their childhood. Turkish guests understand this well, and they can relate to it instantly. We don't only serve food; we present a menu that feeds the soul. We work with a micro-seasonal menu, so we don’t change the menu each season, four times a year, but rather almost every four weeks. We keep a couple of staple dishes on the menu, but each day we add something new, and eventually, after a month, we change the entire menu.

TURK FATIH TUTAK interiors. Photo credit İbrahim Özbunar.

How do you compose the tasting menu, and what are the highlights on the TURK's menu this season?

Chef Fatih Tutak: We catch nature and its products at the right time. We make use of whatever nature provides us during its peak season, whether we preserve it or cook it over time. We capture the peak quality and flavors of the season and preserve them by working with them and then allowing them to rest, age, and ferment. We then reuse them the following year. This is our philosophy of "cooking with time". We will show you many ingredients that we prepared two or three years ago. Their flavor profile evolves with the passage of time, just as balsamic or wine do. Imagine this being used for salted beef that ages 100 days to develop its umami profile. These are just some examples of aging techniques that we use because we love to cook with time. We have so many ingredients that we prepare ahead of time. Our philosophy is that we don’t waste food.

Thracian whitecheese and Ayvalık early harvest oliveoil. Photo credit Eda Ildam.

We must not waste anything because of our principle of continuity and because we must respect the environment. Food is precious to us, like a diamond, so we can’t use anything that is unsustainable. Therefore, we need to show the climate and seasonality of Turkish geography because we use everything from here. Every corner of this country has different terrain, which is why we focus on using all these products.

What is your leadership/management style? How many people work under you in your team?

Chef Fatih Tutak: My management style I would call "sweet and spicy." Sometimes I’m very tough because I have rules. In the kitchen and in restaurants, rules are required. I am a very nice guy, and everybody always wants to be a nice guy. My team is like my family; we see each other for 13–14 hours daily, more than we see our own families.

Mussels dolma. Eda Ildam credit.

How important is a sustainable approach in your profession today?

Chef Fatih Tutak: We always try to find the best-quality products that are available to us at the time and whose production would not be harmful to the land, water, and sea. Thus, vegetables are one of our primary ingredients, although they may not have always been attributed significant value compared to other ingredients. Cooking with precious products such as caviar and oysters can be easy, but it's more satisfying if you can turn more simple ingredients into an amazing dish. And we always serve our guests a sampling menu consisting of multiple dishes. We have almost 50 dishes on our menu, and we never repeat the same ingredients, and we serve dishes in small portions.

Siirt Beetroot, milk tarhana soup and Urfa trout eggs. Photo credits Eda Ildam.

How many of the ingredients in your recipes are produced locally, and where do you get some of the most commonly used ingredients? Which are your current favorite flavor combinations?

Chef Fatih Tutak: We shop everything ourselves, mainly at a local market that is just 100 meters away from the restaurant. You need to see our products, and we try to find good suppliers. It is different to find suppliers here compared to fresh food markets in London, for example, and the consistency also varies.

If I don’t find key ingredients, I would have to change the menu, which pushes me to create. It is also why Turkish cuisine is so tasty—because of the creativity of chefs that arises from a demand for variation and the simplicity of ingredients. Now we are witnessing an evolution in people's eating habits, and people eat less meat. A lot of plant-based dishes from the Aegean region are a good example, and they naturally use high-quality local olive oils.

Among the highlights of the menu that Visionnaire Moralmoda tasted is this Umami birthday cake based on mushrooms and onions and decorated with eadible milk candle.

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