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An Interview with Chef Ahmet Kula at D-Hotel Maris

Born and raised in Istanbul, Chef Ahmet Kula has created an illustrious career born out of his raw passion for the culinary arts. Having worked for the Four Seasons, Kempinski hotels, as well as the prestigious Turkish mega-yacht, the Savarona: Team TWENTY6 sits down with the D-Hotel Maris’ Executive Chef, and discusses what it takes to run 5 world class restaurants in one of the world’s leading luxury hotels.

How did you get started with cooking?
When I was seven years old, I lived near one of the markets in Istanbul where they were selling butters. At the end of the day, the vendors cut the butters up into smaller packets and gave it to the local children. Funnily enough, this was how I got started with cooking; I used to exchange my butters for cook books, and instantly fell in love with the craft.

What brought you to D-Hotel Maris?
As a young and ambitious chef, I started my career working for hotels like The Four Seasons, Mövenpick, and Kempinski. This was a great learning experience for me, but you get to a point where you start to look for the next step. For me, that was working for the Savarona.
The Savarona is a 136 metre mega yacht, that has great historical significance here in Turkey. Not only is it host to many presidential receptions, it is also owned by the founder of the Turkish Republic. From the hospitality industry standpoint, this was such a great experience. When I finished my time in the Savarona, I was approached by the Doğus Group and I knew that working with them was the next logical step in my career. I truly believe in their philosophy and I knew it was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss.

What do you think make the restaurants at the hotel unique?
D-Hotel Maris has five world-class restaurants, each with their own unique personality. We have the award-winning Zuma, Il Riccio Beach Club, Nusr-Et Steakhouse, Bellariva, and Ruia, our signature Turkish restaurant. We also have one breakfast buffet on the third floor terrace, as well as two lunch cafés.

Any luxury hotel must have all inclusive systems to make sure their restaurants run smoothly. However, here at the hotel, the Doğus Group has done something completely different. They want each guest to have a very distinct experience when they stay at the hotel so each restaurant has its own trademark style. In Turkey we say, “Whenever the Doğus Group does anything, they do it the best”. My team and I make it a point to incorporate this frame of mind into each and every restaurant at the hotel.

How do you work the Doğus Group philosophy into the restaurants?
For any professional to come to such a beautiful and isolated place like this, involves a lot of trust. Everyone who works here trusts the Doğus Group’s philosophy and their dedication to excellence.

Every year they change food and beverage concepts, incorporate new dishes and flavours, and add new talented members to the team. The flow of creativity is inspiring and the work we do here is really a team effort. They also encourage us to learn from each other. In fact, I assist and do test courses with other hotels in the group with the same DNA, but different personalities.

And what about your own culinary philosophy?
My philosophy? Clean and Lean! I like to create healthy and delicious dishes with only the freshest ingredients. Our location is so wonderful, that we can get everything we need right at our doorstep.

For me, my most valuable assets are my colleagues. Without the hard work of my team, we would not be able to achieve anything. We are dedicated to constant innovation and are always experimenting with new cuisines and technologies. At the same time, I also believe in good, simple, food. I completely trust in the taste and quality of the food that we prepare, that decoration is an afterthought.  There is a difference between presentation and decoration.

What do you think makes Turkish cuisine special?
When people think of Turkish cuisine, they instantly think of Kebabs. What people don’t realise is that our history reaches back to the Ottoman empire; and we have one of the most rich and diverse cuisines in the world. There are so many influences to Turkish cuisine, from middle eastern mezzes, wine leaves from Greece, and so much more. In Turkey, we use olive oil for everything. Not only is  this really healthy, but I think we have the best tasting olive oil in the world!

Each region in Turkey has their own specialty, from the black sea to Anatolia.  Each region has “world-famous meatballs”,“world famous baclava," or even “world famous cheese” that I don’t even know some dishes. We have over 200 types of meatballs in Turkey, and I think we have the best cheese you could ever taste, there is no need to import cheese from anywhere else. We actually serve twenty kinds of cheese at breakfast, and over 200 dishes in total the breakfast buffet, each and every day.

What is the best thing about working at the hotel?
I personally think that this is the best hotel in Turkey, and maybe even in Europe. I like the mentality of the Doğus group as well as the teamwork, they don’t only choose the destinations, they make them.The D-Hotel Maris isn’t in Italy or France, or some other more popular European destination. But when you start talking to people about the hotel, you also talk about the beauty of the Datça Peninsula, and eventually, about the culture of Marmaris and how Turkey is a top class destination. We want to achieve something different and create the value here, contributing to the destination.

Finally, for our readers who wish to visit the D-Hotel Maris, what would you recommend?
Zuma: For Zuma, I recommend the Black cod or the Rock Shrimps. The Contemporary Asian cuisine of Zuma’s “izakaya” style of dining is a great twist on Japanese classic dishes. Zuma also has amazing mixologists who create one-of-a-kind cocktails. The South-East Asian cocktail is a tangy passionfruit aperitif that works well with a lot of the seafood options.

Nusr-Et: At Nusr-Et Steakhouse, we serve the finest steaks flown directly from Istanbul. Here, I would recommend the steak sushi, or the Asado. The Asado is cooked at 185 degrees for 8 hours, and is steamed for another eight; simple, but beautiful.

Il Riccio: The Il Riccio is a Michelin star restaurant originally in the Isle of Capri, and our sister restaurant, The Il Riccio Beach Club, serves nothing but the freshest seafood in the Datça Peninsula. The Red Shrimp Carpaccio is my favourite dish; (also our favourite dish) and the temptation room is a wonderful dessert experience for our guests.

Bellariva: Bellariva serves great Italian cuisine. All the pizzas are made in a wood fire oven in-house, and the flat bread with Mozzarella is a favourite amongst guests. I also recommend the marinated sea bass, and the seafood lasagna.

Ruia: Ruia is a sophisticated take on Turkish cuisine, and is a great way to experience authentic Turkish flavours and recipes. I recommend all the dishes!

Not only has Chef Ahmet Kula put his personal touch to every single restaurant at D-Hotel Maris, his dedication to good food and great quality makes him an astounding chef, and an absolute delight. One of the highlights of our visit, included Chef Ahmet giving us an amazing hands-on cooking lesson behind the counter in Ruia’s kitchen, with one of the other guest’s fresh catch. An absolutely unforgettable experience, and a truly scrumptious meal. 

Words: Hannah Tan

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