Unchain your heart

Unchain your heart

Aylin Öney TAN - aylin.tan@hdn.com.tr
Unchain your heart Young, bold and brave. The 20 competitors of the young chefs competition held in Istanbul shared these values, all having made a courageous decision at an early age to step into the career of becoming a chef. Istanbul was hosting the young chefs competition, the “Concours International des Jeunes Chefs Rôtisseurs” of the international organization la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. It was the first time for Turkey to organize this event, and there was also another first for Turkey: Turkish competitor Yusuf Kızılırmak won the third place, becoming the first ever Turkish chef to win an award in a Chaîne competition.

The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, translated as the “Chain of Roasters,” is an international gastronomic society, originating in France and now established in over 70 countries. Creating a long chain of enthusiasts who share the same values of quality, fine dining,and the pleasures of the table, the organization aims to bring together amateurs and professionals from all over the world in appreciation of the culinary arts. The young chefs competition is an important activity of local groups and the big event is the international world competition. It was a first for MSA, the Culinary Arts Academy, to host such a big international competition, but they did a great job in making all the chefs feel at home and have a unique experience. It all started three years ago when Mohamed Hammam, the Bailli Délégué (President) of the Chaine Des Rôtisseurs in Turkey proposed to organize the local competition to the MSA. The first year went well, but Mehmet Aksel, the founder and owner of MSA, a keen racer himself, saw a few flaws, and perfected everything the next year. Dedicated to making the competition a lifetime experience for the competitors, he not only made everything in the kitchen top quality, but created exciting activities outside the kitchen. After seeing the success of the local competition of 2012, within a few days the international board proposed that the MSA host the international competition of 2013. Aksel took the task as if organizing the Olympics, and they created a wonderful program, making every minute in Istanbul a memorable moment. Everything went smoothly thanks to all the efforts of MSA team, especially the phenomenal general manager Sitare Baras and executive chef Cem Erol.

I had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time with the competitors and their coaches, as I had the daunting responsibility of guiding the group of 42 in the Spice Bazaar and fish market, as well as attending some of their lunches and dinners. It is not easy to hold the attention of such a large group, but I was amazed by their quest to learn about local ingredients and explore Turkish tastes.

Although I have to reveal that all failed the test of detecting chicken breast in Tavuk Göğsü Kazan Dibi, the weird Turkish specialty of chicken breast pudding, they were all very enthusiastic about tasting new things. It was a delight to lead such a young group of future professionals, and it was inspiring to hear about their individual stories.

The winner of the competition was the German chef Jean-Philippe Berner, getting the Arthur Bolli Memorial Trophy, Gold Medal of la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. The second place Gaston-Landry Panuel Award, the Silver Medal of la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, was won by Jimmi Eriksson of Sweden. When I talked with the three winners after the award ceremony, I noticed that they all chose their paths with a similar motive. It was their young appetite to explore the world that enabled them to make the bold decision to become chefs. They were all very aware that life would not be so easy, and that blood, sweat and tears would be their daily routine in the toilsome business of the service sector.

Yusuf Kızılırmak was very happy to have this honor in his own country. Maybe it was the confidence of being on native soil that made him so successful. His story began almost a decade ago in Çorum, a Central Anatolian town, famous for its leblebi, (roasted chickpeas), and for being the birthplace of the glorious Hittite Empire. As a young boy looking into his future he wanted to explore the world and see new places. There they were, a group of mid-school teenage youngsters, dreaming about conquering the world and trying to find out a way to achieve this. One choice was to forget about going to university and instead enroll in a vocational school giving an education in tourism. In their minds, tourism was synonymous with seeing new places, and that made the decision for young Yusuf. After graduating from the local vocational school in Çorum, he went to the famous chefs’ school in Mengen, Bolu, and then directly got a job in Dubai.

Yusuf says his success was not achieved alone. He is currently working with one of Turkey’s well known and most respected chefs, executive chef Tarkan Özdemir at the five star hotel “Le Meridien Istanbul Etiler” in Istanbul. His coach, mentor and trainer at the competition was Erol Sarıdoğan,who gave him full training and who was himself the winner of the local Chaine Des Rôtisseurs 2008 National Young Chefs Competition, and now the representative of Turkey at the international Competition in Paris. It was their joint effort that brought Yusuf the prestigious Jean Valby Trophy, the Bronze Medal of la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.

Competitors are given a black box, full of ingredients to use, some mandatory, some optional. Yusuf says that he knew what he was going to cook, regardless of the ingredients coming from the black box.

He planned dishes in his mind, with alternatives of each dish prepared with either fish, chicken or meat, so in a way it was easy for him to adapt his ideal plates according to the contents of the mystery box.

He could showcase his talent, creativity and dedication in an international arena, together with the support of his tutors, truly matching the fraternal spirit of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs society.

Actually, all those young talents were winners. They all unchained their hearts and landed in a tough career at a very tender age. They are now in the unbreakable chain of true believers in good food.