RIXOS KHADISHA SYHMKENT
Shymkent is Southern Kazakhstan’s most vibrant city with crowded bazaars and a buoyant downtown where, at the heart, stands the city’s most luxurious hotel, Rixos Khadisha Shymkent. Moreover, this stunning hotel’s kitchen is one of the best places to dine in the city. There are two restaurants in the hotel; Olivia, offering the best examples of Italian cuisine, and Kazakhasia, which offers the best local tastes. The person behind these successful restaurants is Executive Chef Sinan Karabulut. Chef Karabulut told us all about the difficulties of being in a big kitchen and the tips for being a successful chef.
When did your interest in the art of cooking begin, and what was your inspiration?
My interest in the art of cooking began when I was 16 years old in Ankara. Being originally from Mengen, Bolu is one of the main reasons that I became a chef. The numerous chefs around me while I was growing up inspired me and helped me to get a good start. I’ve always taken the late chef Aydın Yılmaz as an example and have never forgotten his advice. I am also grateful for every chef who has supported me in the past.
Can you tell us the difficulties and secrets of managing a big kitchen and being an executive chef?
Nowadays, numerous skills are needed in order to manage a kitchen of a five-star international hotel. I think that physical power is one of the most important skills. The art of cooking requires a very dynamic body. For a chef to be successful, he or she needs to have as numerous qualifications as the different colors on a painter’s canvas and then, the chef should present the perfect picture by mixing those colors in perfect harmony.
If we have to summarize these qualifications, it starts with being familiar with fine arts to make beautiful presentations. Then, it continues with having knowledge about human health to produce healthy food, about gastronomy to produce international menus, what spices achieve which good flavors, the animal anatomy to know meat, foreign languages to communicate with guests and management from different nationalities, accounting for cost control, etc. A chef also should be a good leader to lead the team in the kitchen. Above all, I think that the most important qualification of a good chef is being able to produce a memorable taste in every dish. I believe that our tongue has its own memories. Even if it was something we ate years ago, we can still remember its taste and look for the same flavors.
The biggest secret of my job is performing it with passion and love, and trying my best to give happiness and health to people.
Big kitchens are both a work place and a school. How do you keep the balance between these two important tasks?
The kitchens of a big hotel are the most hierarchic department in the building. There are ranks just like in the military. The newcomers start in storing and cleaning to learn and understand the products. Later on, they start learning about preparations, cooking and serving. Currently in our kitchen, we have interns from the two cooking schools in the city. We also support them in various competitions. We use the Rixos training programs to improve their career development. There are also task forces and cross training programs with other hotels.
You have a vast knowledge in Modern Turkish Cuisine and the Ottoman Court Cuisine. What are the differences between them?
For the Ottoman Cuisine dishes, I used several recipes that I found from old cooking books and the Ottoman archives. In 2000, I presented an Ottoman cuisine themed gala dinner for the “Chain de Rotisseurs” members, in which we received high praises. There weren’t produces such as pumpkin, tomato, potato, and bell pepper in the 18th century’s Ottoman Court cuisine. Thus, tomato paste (alas, no tomatoes) were never used in the recipes. Today, there isn’t almost one Turkish dish without tomato paste. In the court kitchen, the chefs were using various spices to add flavors. Fresh sherbets and fruit compotes were the sine qua non at the Ottoman dinner tables.
You are also highly experienced in Japanese and Italian cuisines. What are the advantages of being experienced in different cuisines? And do you have some advice on this topic for the young chefs?
In 1988, I worked as a “Teppanyaki” show chef at Mikado Restaurant, which is the first Japanese cuisine restaurant in Turkey. Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food in front of the guests. I saw sushi for the first time in this restaurant, and I also learned how to eat and make it. At the time, eating raw fish in Ankara seemed like a crazy idea to me. I thought that the restaurant was not going to be successful and no one was going to eat raw fish. However, the restaurant became popular quickly and everybody loved it. I’m still mad at myself because of my prejudice. The experience of being a Teppanyaki chef taught me to act more comfortably in front of guests. Thanks to this experience, I could make cooking lively everywhere, and hence, make my work environment more enjoyable. I also worked with several Italian chefs with Michelin Stars at Montverdi, which is the first “fine dining” restaurant of Turkey. Here, I learned about various extremely expensive produces. My experience at an Italian kitchen made me look at the Mediterranean cuisine from a different perspective. It also led me to think about new ideas of applying some aspects of the Mediterranean cuisine to the Turkish cuisine, considering that Turkey is one of the biggest exporters of wild mushrooms and mussels to Italy.
I advise young chefs to always research. However, just reading or looking at pictures is not enough, they have to practice. If it is possible, they should do internships abroad. However, the most important thing is that they must not smoke. In my opinion, the most important skill of a chef is his or her ability to taste the dish correctly. Smoking is a bad habit blocking 30% of tasting. Think about it, it is like playing a piano with three less fingers.
What are the most preferred cuisines at Rixos Khadisha Shymkent? Also, what do you recommend for the guests who are visiting you in the Summer?
We have two restaurants at Rixos Khadisha Shymkent: “Olivia” Italian Restaurant and “Kazakhasia,” a Pan Asian restaurant. In Kazakhasia, we present the national Kazakh cuisine with an open show kitchen, as well as a Sushi Bar and a menu featuring the best dishes from the Asia Pacific countries. In the restaurant are also Wok, dim sum, Teppanyaki, Noodles and Grill stations. Additionally, we prepare thematic Business Lunch buffets in Kazakhasia throughout the week days. “Mantı with Shrimp” is one of the most popular items in the menu, which we offered as a new idea for the national Kazakh cuisine.
Would you share a guest story that indicates how the Rixos Hotels goes beyond someone’s expectations?
Most of our guests who have dined at our restaurants want to also join in our master classes. That’s why we organize master classes twice a week. Three months ago, a European ambassador was staying at the hotel and he liked the room treats that we prepared for him so much that he wanted to take the presentation tree made from sugar with him. And of course, we happily agreed. Currently, we are operating the staff cafeteria of a pharmaceutical plant in the city with nearly 600 employees. Because the CEO of the pharmaceutical company was so satisfied with our dishes during his stay in the hotel, he wanted us to operate the plant’s cafeteria, which we are successfully executing.
Thank you for making time for us and for this lovely interview.