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Not everybody goes into gastronomy through a traditional route and the Turkish born Kemal Demirasal certainly had a varied career before deciding to self train and become a chef. He now heads up two restaurants in Alaçati, Turkey: Barbun, a relaxed seafood driven restaurant and Alancha, an avant-garde 20-course offering that explores the wide variety on offer across Anatolian cuisine.
He’s a determined chef with a strong vision for what he wants to achieve and firmly believes that Turkish gastronomy is going to blow up around the world, and not for the kebab. Find out more about his extreme sport background and hi energy approach to cuisine below.
Please, describe yourself in 3 words.
Passion, creation, courage.
Where did you learn to cook?
I'm a self trained chef. After 15 years of professional windsurfing, 6 years in Turkey with a Windsurfing Freestyle Champion career, I studied economics. Then my passion turned out to become gastronomy: I started my carrier self training for 3 years, I spent almost all of my time on reading, researching on what is cooking, what lies beneath and what is beyond cooking. Then I started to travel for to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and eventually started running the Barbun restaurant. At Barbun I put took all that I had learned and was trained further in Barbun. For that period the restaurant became my personal school. We have learned how to process and run our kitchen only-with local ingredients and Barbun is still running on that routine of fine ingredients with a bistro approach. Dishes we serve are focused on keeping it simple yet delicious. Within that upcoming 6 years, I realised that it was not just cooking to me, I was not only cooking. I was in a desire to design an experience. So that is how the project Alancha started.
Is there any difference about the approach of the restaurants you run?
At Alancha, our main purpose is to be brave and creative enough to build a project where few examples are existing in Turkish gastronomy. The first step was to eliminate the A-la-carte menu. There were restaurant serving both carte and tasting but we focused on an ‘only tasting menu’ structure. We want to serve a real experience, to compel our guests with experience, creation and make them part of the moment. We are very aware and conscious of how we want to appeal to our guests. To have them surrender to the experience. That is why we eliminated all other alternatives and focused on ‘only-tasting menu’.
The food is focused on locality, seasonality and spontaneity. We are on a pursuit to find the best and freshest produce. The menu is changing every now and then and we try to keep it simple yet complex. Let the ingredients speak for themselves. We serve a +20 multi course tasting menu at Alancha for 40 guests but we don’t want to make our guests feel trapped in a dining room for hours. The target is serving at an optimum time of 2.5 hours. For that the team in the kitchen expanded to 40 staff for a dynamic, creative and precise production, plus 10 front house. Before dining sessions, we have designed an aperitif bar with a mixology bar, a place where local ingredients meet creative mixology technics. Where as at Barbun we focus on casual-smart dining. Creative methods with local and fresh ingredients. It’s a bistro focused on simple yet delicious methods. We supplied by a local bazaar, butcher and fish-monger. The menu is an integration of The Land, The Sea and The Green Fields. We forage local herbs of Aegean fields for depth of flavour.
Can you describe your cooking philosophy?
First of all honest, down to earth, tasty, delicious and yet compromising on experience. That is how we approach the cooking process. We are very aware that guests are out there for chasing the savor. And we are here to exceed their expectations. So at Alancha kitchen we don’t want to be the part of a routine. We wanted to push ourselves against artisan cooking, creativity, change, spontaneity but still perfectionist and precise. First think was playing with the heat, so that is how we decided using only wood charcoal fire. The essence and smokiness of every different wood. The challenge between change of heat against chefs perfection. So we decided to put away all the pan, stir, deep frying technics from the kitchen. Since we decided to make a dynamic menu, we didn't ask for a specific ingredient from our suppliers but to follow the routines of their production. So that is how the local menu started. We don’t have specific dishes but a specific cooking chart. When ingredients are sustained, we follow our map to find the best way to process rather than trying to embed it to a specific dish. By then we are free to create, a limitless field where everyday is a new day for creation, where we start from ground zero. At Barbun, we use marination of seafood, sometimes keep it raw rather than cooking. Other than that we use lots of onions, root vegetables, local bitter-herbs, spices and aromatics for depth of flavour. For meat, Lamb is the delicacy. Cheeses are from local bazaars, butter is from Black- Sea Region. Wine is more focused to local, our vineries are not there for centuries but they are pushing for a better production as and trying to reflect the terroir.
Is there any other traditional cuisine influence in your dining proposals?
For one year we have been working on the history of Anatolia. Where the human kind transformed from colonial living to a settled life by discovering the cultivation of barley. A history full of invasions, migrations and wars. Guess the cultural affections of each civilizations. Hittites, Phoenicians, Persians, Antique Greeks, Molokons, Russians, Balkans, Seljuks, Ottomans and so. You can not define our cuisine with a specific region or technique. You have to dig in to our political history. How have civilizations and interactions effected Anatolia cuisine? So that we started our research with history. And now, because of that, we’ve launched our Great Migration menu that reflects the roots of Anatolia.
What’s your opinion about current fine dining scene in Turkey? Is there some interesting trend?
For the last 10 years gastronomy has been exceeding the standards. Yet fine-food and sustainability is a big problem in capital cities. Financing the fine-dining restaurant is still a major problem, and maybe that is why our chefs are finding it risky to design avant-garde menus and restaurants. That is why they keep in safe zones. But on the contrary our ingredients, our cuisine is the next big think. It is time for Turkey to lead to a new influence in global gastronomic scene. In 3 to 5 years, i believe that we will see some restaurants achieving places on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List.