Who hasn’t heard of Turkuaz? The turkish restaurant that serves not only authentic regional turkish food, but also the unique ottoman cuisine that is seen as the bridge between Europe and Middle Eastern influences. Whats New Jakarta recently came down to the beautiful Turkuaz to chat with Sezai and Yanti Zorlu, the power couple behind the restaurant and their latest creations, Warung Turki.
Many people see you as a ‘power couple’. How do you manage as both business partner and a couple?
Yanti: I should always know my place. At work, I’m a business partner, and at home I’m a wife. So if Sezai said something to me at work in a business environment, I shall not bring it home with me.
Sezai: Business is business, there’s no toleration. If we don’t do business as good as we possibly can, how are we going to feed ourselves? It’s as simple as that. There is of course toleration, but that’s not because she’s my wife. A person of our caliber should always do better because we have all the experience necessary to run the business.
It doesn’t matter how good the concept, interior, or nice comfortable chair, people don’t come to comfort themselves, people come to eat. Everything is of course related, but everything comes down to the food. We try to keep the quality and consistency to our caliber. If you want to do it your way, you need to do it yourself. That’s why many of the things, we do ourselves, and we always make sure that one of us is always in the restaurants every single day, to see the quality. And every day we eat something from the restaurant so we can keep the quality and consistency of our food.
How has Indonesians especially, accepts Turkish food?
We believe we are the most authentic ottoman cuisine around and also food from my mother’s home town at the southeast of Turkey. We know that everyone has their own palate, so we make everything made to order, so we can accommodate more wishes. From the meat, to the wood oven bread. Our philosophy is that our food doesn’t wait for our guests, our guests wait for our food. Because we keep everything as authentic as possible, and good food takes time. You work 12 to 14 hours a day, why wouldn’t you want to spend 1 or 2 hours of proper dinner with your loved ones? I also want to respect the bread money that you earn, by providing you with not only tasty but also nutritious food. Not with food that had been prepared long before you walk in to the restaurant.
How do you react to critics?
People say customer is king. Yes, that’s true but this is my restaurant and I’m the professional chef that they pay to provide them food. There’s no hanky panky in my restaurant. You can’t find mayonnaise, saus sambal—it’s an insult to my grandmother if I put saus sambal on my lamb shank. Even for me, I rarely complain when I go to a restaurant. If I don’t like it, then I just don’t go there anymore.
What puts Turkuaz apart from other Turkish restaurants?
For us, we do it simple, but with most attention to detail. The food in my restaurants is my mother and my grandmother’s cooking, and also some of my specialties as an ottoman cuisine specialist, the only one in Asia too. Even if you go to the best restaurants in Turkey, I can guarantee you can’t find one restaurant with my selection of menu.
How did you the two of you decide to open Turkuaz?
S: I was about to resign to my previous employer, and Yanti was too. So we decided to quit our jobs, you do the marketing, front house; I take care of the kitchen. We have the right ingredients, and it’s truly ours.
Y: And I had been a PR hotel, so we have the right mix of expertise, and also the right concept.
What about Warung Turki?
Warung Turki is a project that I’ve always wanted to do since long time ago, even before I met my wife. It’s the idea to offer inexpensive Turkish food to more people, where you can get a quality meal for Rp. 100,000. Besides the price, Warung Turki is more ‘deep’ for me, because it’s just my mother and grandmother’s cooking that are served there. Well, it’s a warung that serves authentic cooking from my village. And I think it is the only restaurant in Asia that cooks the food with wood and charcoal only.
What does your Mother or your Grandmother thinks of your cooking?
I only cook when I’m overseas, when I’m in turkey, I eat my mother and my grandmother’s cooking. But my family does think I make fantastic Kebab!
What’s the challenge of running a Turkish restaurant in Indonesia?
Everything is a challenge. Business itself is a challenge. Running the staff, sourcing the ingredients, keeping consistency, these are all challenges but it’s not impossible. You’ll always have someone that complains. That’s normal and inevitable.
Who cooks at home?
We both cook, it depends what we want to eat. But we rarely dine at home, usually only on weekends. We spend most of our time in our restaurants, so we eat our food here, or places close to here. In Kemang, I like the Ayam Goreng Menteng next to Warung Turki, Cangkir, or Pawon Solo. Komunal 88 is also a very nice place.
What’s your future plans?
Hopefully by 2017 we can open one more Turkuaz in Jakarta and also franchising Warung Turki. Our goal is to have more Warung Turki both in Jakarta in all cities in Indonesia. We are also preparing one more concept that I can’t talk about it yet, but we’ll definitely announce it when it’s ready. For me, it’s about being able to transfer my knowledge to Indonesians, to empower them with the business opportunity that I give.
Without realizing it, we had already talked for nearly 2 hours. Mid-interview, Sezai summoned his staff to bring him a Sisha, another thing he enjoys doing in his restaurants. The couple then showed me around to their beautifully decorated restaurant ‘This chandelier is handblown and costs me tens of thousands of dollars, but we just have to have it. It is part of the Turkuaz package that we’d like people to experience'”, Sezai explained. I also marveled at the neatly stacked baklava inside a glass display, with a pretty turkish mural dominating the background. A selection of beautiful Turkish carpets and handicrafts are also at display, and available for purchase. It definitely felt like I was transported to a quaint little restaurant in Istanbul, kudos to Yanti & Sezai!
Find out more about their restaurants here http://turkuazrst.com/