Chef Sezai is not your average chef. Although he may not have gone through an orthodox training of culinary school, his craft is as polished and authentic as it can possibly be in this modern culinary age. Instead of culinary schools, he learned cooking methods from the best of teachers; mothers and grandmothers.
Growing up in Iskenderun, southeast of Turkish Mediterranean, he spent his time helping at his grandparent’s farm gaining deep knowledge about seasonal fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs. From picking to preparing all the necessary ingredients for winters, such as pomegranate sauce, tomato and chili paste; drying herbs and wheat, his love of cooking and passion for the craft, flourished. This experience also made him inherit the family recipes to keep alive his mother and grandmother’s memories through cooking.
Fast forward 30 years later, Chef Sezai finally accomplished his lifelong dream to have his own restaurant Turkuaz and Warung Turki, which both have received much acclaim as one the best restaurants in Jakarta, where he and his family now reside.
Nowhere else in Jakarta, or even Asia, where you can find a professionally run Turkish restaurant that relies on wood-fire oven for nearly all of its cooking processes. Chef Sezai is determined to preserve cooking method as authentic as possible, just it has been done in his home country for centuries. As he is currently the only Ottoman Turkish Chef in Asia, it is definitely not an exaggeration to say that he’s the best at it too.
Ottoman cuisine refers to Turkish food of the Ottoman Empire and its continuation in the cuisines of Turkey, Greece, the Balkans, and parts of the Caucasus, and the Middle East. His experience working for different chefs, including his time in the army as well as working side by side with his father, who was himself the personal chef of a royal family for 15 years, gave him a deep knowledge of the regional cuisine.
One of his many philosophies is that the food doesn’t wait for his guests, it’s the other way around, as everything is made to order the minute the waiters place your orders. “Good food takes time. I want to respect the bread money that my guests earn, by providing you with not only tasty but also nutritious food. ” Sezai explains.
“For us, we do it simple; but with most attention to detail. The food in Warung Turki is my mother and my grandmother’s cooking, and in Turkuaz, I present my specialties as an ottoman cuisine specialist”.
Sezai’s attention to detail and determination for the best can be seen by how his two restaurants are built. Nearly 90% of everything you see in the restaurant, are either custom made, hand made, or both, many hand-picked by the chef himself and carried in directly from Turkey. And Sezai can explain and will tell you a story of each and every one of the items too.
That is why he describes both of his restaurants as a ‘museum’, with real historic and artistic pieces that tell a story of Turkey. Although Sezai admits that Warung Turki is more ‘deep’ for him as it is an homage he pays to his roots, which he humbly honors as what makes him who he is today. His respect to his background also extends to the founding father of his homeland, that is why you will see a large picture of Kemal Pasha Attaturk in both of his restaurants.
Most recently, Chef Sezai’s hunger for challenge and most importantly, his love of food and cooking brought him as a challenger in Iron Chef Indonesia that pins together some of the most talented chefs in Indonesia.
Other than his occasional appearance on TV, you can find Chef Sezai in one his restaurants Warung Turki and Turkuaz, where he still cooks every day, warmly greets and engage his guests in conversations, and enjoys his Turkish tea with his shisha.
More information about Sezai’s restaurants, visit www.turkuazrst.com