"Cooking Is My Life" - Says Chef Gokhan On His Love For Food
Image Credit: Chef Gokhan talks about his life, journey and love for mutton biryani

For some people cooking is their passion and for some people cooking is their profession. Some people take it too seriously and some people just see cooking as a hobby that they like to indulge in for a while. For Chef Gokhan Eser Kesen, cooking is more than all of this. As he delights guests at Pullman, Aerocity every night from 25th August to 3rd December with delicious food from Ottoman Cuisine, Slurrp caught up with him and had a quick chat with the Chef about his love for cooking, his life stories and how he started his journey. With the expertise of seven generations of Ottoman cuisine, Chef Gokhan has a lot of stories and a lot of experience to share! 

Your love for your food made you study about food. So, how has that impacted your cooking? 

Well, for me studying was more than just textbooks and learning how to cook. I started my career as a 12-year-old boy. I worked for 7 years for free, just for passion. I am 33 years old now and already have a career spanning 21 years. And I struggled hard to make this career. While I was working when I was 12, I would just wash my mentor’s clothes and do the dishes. Whenever he would ask me to bring some ingredients, I would take the markings so that I could replicate the dish. I only got to learn first-hand from him when I cooked an entire meal of 25 dishes by myself, and he was so impressed that he offered to teach me from then on! 

Tell us something about the Ottoman cuisine. The primary cooking methods, the spices that are used and the common dishes that are cooked. 

The Ottoman cuisine is all about pairing things properly and eating them the way they were meant to be eaten. Ottomn cuisine is not just Turkish, it covers Europe, India and Pakistan as well. So, when we cook, there are a lot of things that are to be kept in mind. Authentic Ottoman food is a perfect pairing of protein with vegetables. For example, if I am preparing a chicken dish, I pair it with potatoes or carrots because they just go so well together. Every vegetable has its own unique flavour profile and that is what I strive to bring out. Even with minimum spices, the taste is just great. You have to trust your skill and know what you are doing. 

What similarities do you find between Indian and Ottoman Cuisines? 

There are several similarities that I can recall. Cooking on tandoor and making the kebabs is something that is common. Several ingredients like bay leaves or saffron are again very common in both cuisines. I would just say that the amount of spice that is added in both cuisines in different, with Turkish food being lighter and not using as much chilli powder. You can have a kebab at night and not really feel very uncomfortable or bloated.

How has been your experience in India so far? What would you pick as some of your favourite dishes from the Indian cuisine? 

Well, I think I am in love with chicken tikka and mutton biryani. When those midnight hunger pangs kick in, I more often than not end up ordering mutton biryani and eating it. It is very delicious and at this point, I might be eating biryani twice or thrice a week! 

After having spent so much time studying, cooking and working as a chef, what is cooking to you - is it your passion, your profession or a means of therapy and enjoyment for you? 

Cooking is my life! I do not know where I would be or what I would do if it were not for cooking being such a solace for me! I do not have a life outside of cooking.  It is my happy place and I believe cooking is such a lovely, intimate activity, it brings you all together. I have my own little family that I have formed here, with the people I work with. All my life, since I was 12, I have cooked to support my family. Cooking and being able to cook for people is everything to me. 

How do you see the demand for authentic Turkish food in India? Do you see it as an expanding market? 

Definitely! There is a lot of interest around the cuisine and Turkish food in India. Like I said, it is easy on the stomach, so people really enjoy eating Turkish food. I am associated with projects in India where not just the food, but the look and feel of the place is also authentic. 

You have travelled the world to cook and met so many people. Any experiences you would like to share? 

Well, you were talking about my love for food. I have actually gotten the whole of my body burnt in 2021! When I was working for the President of Turkey, there was a G-20 Summit and I was taking care of the food. I had an 18-year-old trainee under me, who was about to spill hot melting butter on herself. I was working and had plates in my hand, but as soon as I saw she was in danger, I threw away the plates and went to save her. In the process, I burnt myself but if I get an opportunity to do this again, I would do it without thinking! 

What are some of your favourite dishes being served at the Turkish Delight at Pullman? 

Well, I have added a lot of healthy gravy options to the menu, apart from the Turkish kebabs that are very popular. For vegetarians, there is a delicious green beans preparation. Then in non-vegetarian options, there is the Turkish style yakhni. Also, the hummus I am serving today has the same 50-year-old recipe, with no changes, so that is literally legacy on a plate!