Life begins when you’re ready to take brave steps. We see how Emirhan decided to turn his dreams into a lifestyle beyond a hobby and how food can turn into something magical when regarded as an experience. Try to look at life from a pleasant perspective and focus more on the details. Meet Emirhan because he has some useful hints.
We’re seeing you with alternative gastronomy projects in the last two years. What has directed you to this field?
I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant since I was a kid, but I didn’t take this seriously for a long time. “I can pursuit it as a hobby after a certain age,” I’d tell myself. Normally, it’s the older brother who leads the younger, but I was encouraged to take a new step when my younger brother left college after six months and went to the U.S. to study culinary arts. In a way, restaurants are places that exist to cater to customers’ more than one sense. The sense of satisfaction brought along a product after a long process (from its decoration to serving) and to see the expression on people’s faces are the most pleasant aspects of this job.
You define yourself as a restaurateur rather than an entrepreneur. Can you elaborate on this description?
I was working at a company when I left my job and went to Paris to study restaurant management. In addition to the theoretical and practical education I received, what attracted me the most among the books I read back then was Danny Meyer’s book on hospitality which also included his own experiences. Danny is one of the world’s most prominent restaurateurs with his work and achievements. I also prefer to be called a restaurateur instead of an entrepreneur because I want to focus on a specific area.
“Though details sometimes look trivial, they’re always the key elements of a whole.”
Can you tell us about the Wondercats dishes you’ve created to offer different alternatives? How did it begin and where is it going?
Wondercats was born of many questions and quests that began with my return to Istanbul. I wanted to do something about culinary arts with the people around me, but nobody was willing to take a step. Finally, I talked to Sinan (Büdeyri) and we decided to present a series of two or three dishes to better know each other and to see if we can work together. With the second dish, Sarper (Ulusel) also joined us. Wondercats is a playground where we can demonstrate our creativity. It has collaborated with many brands in addition to organizing events for its organically formed community for 1.5 years. To be honest, we plan this year to be the last season for Wondercats. We have a few more recipe ideas and want it to end at a nice place. Though our brand collaborations will continue, we have bigger plans for our community that prioritize experience and mystery.
How can people join this community?
They can register at www.wondercatspopup.com and save our number 05444293434.
How open-minded are we as a society for different flavors? How do you evaluate our culinary habits?
Our society loves sharing but I also think that we’re a bit conservative in terms of flavor. We always hesitate before we try something unfamiliar. But once we enjoy that flavor, we can internalize it more quickly. For instance, kimchi was very well-received at Markus. We can have a more conscious diet especially in our daily lives. For instance, what kind of diets do companies offer their employees? We need to think about how much they care about having an exchange of ideas with the catering firms they’re working with for their employees to be more fit and productive.
How did the idea for Markus come to be?
We wanted to get to know each other better with Sinan. We graduated from the same department of the same university (Management Sciences at Sabancı University) Then dear Ömer Çağatay (Dem Istanbul, Ronnefeldt Turkey) brought us together. The main dish for the first Wondercats event was rack of veal. For the second event, we served a giant and entire rack in the middle of the table for the Viking Feast concept. Based on the reactions we got, we started to think about opening a restaurant that serves rack. Sinan already had that dream and I joined in.
Is there a special reason you chose the industrial district of Oto Sanayi?
We have a “raw” menu which prioritizes one product. And we wanted to reflect that rawness on the space. It was a risky district for many people around us but we were both happy and encouraged to see that people of Istanbul drove a great distance to eat nice food as Europeans would do.
“Though it’s riskier and more tiresome compared to a corporate life, freedom means more to this generation.”
What awaits Markus in the future and what are your plans?
We want to build more under the roof of Prime Ribs Society. We’ve been planning this from the start, but we had to postpone it due to some other things. I hope we’ll become an even more enjoyable place in Maslak in September.
How do you interpret the culinary habits of the people in Istanbul?
It’s based on experience, seeing and being seen. With the influence of social media, people want to share their experiences more. This can make you a popular place for 2-3 months, but you can make it sustainable if you’re successful in terms of taste and service. The fact that nightlife in the city is not what it used to be, people now prefer to combine dining and entertainment. When live music has become a part of dining, modern taverns have become a hit. But people also opt for places where they can sample just one product served with excellence. Basta and Ozzie’s are two finest examples of this trend.
What has changed?
We eat out more compared to a few years ago. The new generation can take more courageous steps, and everyone dreams of an enterprise at least once in their life. Though it’s riskier and more tiresome compared to a corporate life, freedom means more to this generation.
What is your culinary capital?
I think Italian cuisine is the best in the world. I love eating a simple dish in the finest way possible. But I think London is the world’s culinary capital as you can easily find what you’re looking for.
Can Istanbul become a gourmet city in the future?
I don’t think it’s possible in the near future. In this regard, our habits and hospitality should be on the forefront. Until a few years ago, the Middle Eastern cuisine was very popular, but it was replaced by the Mexican cuisine. We took advantage of this momentum thanks to similar tastes but, unfortunately, the terror incidents in recent years have drove tourists away from us. Nevertheless, Mikla’s achievements in recent years are very encouraging and we should thank Mehmet Gürs and his team for that.
How would you define your perspective of life?
I try to enjoy life as much as possible whether it’s a glass of great wine, a new cuisine or going to a wonderful concert. I think we should work for moments like these. And I care a lot about the details. Though they sometimes look trivial, they’re always the key elements of a whole.
What’s the most exciting and inspiring thing for you recently?
“Çorba’da Tuzun Olsun” and “Hayata Sarıl Lokantası” by Ayşe Tükrükçü and “Hayatım Yenibahar” by Ebru Baybara Demir are among the two most inspiring ideas for me recently. I hope we see more people like them. I hope one day we can achieve their contribution to the society.