For Chef Ali Ronay, his new role as the Executive Chef of the Raffles Istanbul is ‘like coming back home’ – to his roots and doing what he loves best – introducing the tastes and flavours of Turkish cuisine to the rest of the world. He speaks to the CookeryPlus Team and shares his culinary vision and plans for Raffles Istanbul…
CP: Share with us your journey as a professional in the culinary industry. What incidents inspired you to become a chef?
Chef Ali Ronay: I always dreamt of travelling the world and living in hotels in my childhood. Hotels and restaurants have always inspired me as they are the most civil places that have a sense of luxury and service. My parents suggested that I become a hotelier and I liked the idea. I became a chef, which turned out to be even better! I love the service industry due to its energy, style, luxury, but most importantly, the people. You meet so many people, from different cultures, who become your sources of inspiration.
CP: You have previously worked with reputed names in the hospitality industry. How has that experience helped you in your present role as Executive Chef at Raffles Istanbul?
AR: My previous roles brought the experience and expertise in what I do and in the business. Also, they helped me to gain confidence. I have worked with many talented executives over the years. I tried to pick up the best from them and got the chance to examine and study what is missing and what is needed in the luxury market. With each year, I had the chance to take it one step further. ‘Passion, Dedication, Innovation, Respect and Straightforwardness’ – these are my keywords – and these have helped me in every role I have taken up till date.
CP: Raffles Istanbul promises to serve Mediterranean cuisine with a Turkish influence. How do you plan to cater to a global palate?
AR: Over the past 7 years I have been working on this concept. In fact, the plan is very simple and basic. Always use local, seasonal, sustainable products… and then, the chef has to put in his love and experience and turn these ingredients into a dish. ‘Less is more’ – our motto – is one that we think all our international guests will also support. We would like our guests to come and experience the dining and wining experience in this sense, in the Rocca Restaurant.
CP: Do you think traditional cooking methods, especially with regards to Turkish cuisine, are becoming obsolete in today’s contemporary setting? What steps do you take to incorporate them in your practice?
AR: I think every technique, traditional or modern, has a place in the culinary scene. We always cook with the most suitable techniques to bring out the best from the ingredients. And when we create new recipes, we spend at least ten days testing and finalising them, to find out how to reach the best option possible. And some of the new dishes stand out and make their way into the menu, when the menu changes.
CP: Does your belief in the philosophy, ‘Tourné vers demain mais soucieux d’hier’, meaning ‘Facing tomorrow but respectful of yesterday’ reflect in your style of cooking as well? Can you please elaborate how?
AR: This philosophy of Pierre Gagnaire is my guideline since I started to work on Turkish Cuisine. Our concept of Turkish cuisine in the Rocca Restaurant is founded on the concept of ‘Old & New’. What we mean here is ‘Old’ like in the past – romantic, black & white, created for a reason – and ‘New’ like in the contemporary times – more health conscious, well-created, sexy and colourful. A combination of both. This goes for ingredients, techniques, tastes and presentations. The main reason for the ‘Old & New’ concept is that I wanted our guests to be a part of our story of taste; to experience our childhood memories, and witness our dreams for Turkish cuisine.
CP: One myth you would love to dispel about Mediterranean cuisine?
AR: I may not dispel a myth, but would like to share a little-known tip; the wild herbs found in Turkey, a country with long Mediterranean coasts, are amazing. For example, seashore flora such as seaweeds and pickled seaweeds. They are healthy, and very interesting taste combinations can be created if used properly with the right ingredients. We have amazing ingredients right in front of us. Sometimes we just need to know where to look!
CP: Each Raffles hotel is known to have its own distinct personality. What care have you taken while designing the menu to bring in this ‘distinctiveness’ in the food served at Raffles Istanbul?
AR: Raffles Istanbul has a very distinct personality in terms of its design, style and art elements. Most important are the people who are a part of it; my colleagues serving our guests with the motto of ‘Passion to Exceed’. In terms of the food served, as we are located in Istanbul, an ancient city that brings together two continents and many civilisations through history, we make sure to serve our guests with a taste of the inherent culinary culture of this magnificent city, blended with contemporary touches. This way, I believe we will set trends like the other Raffles properties around the world.
CP: If you had to recommend one dish and beverage from the present menu, what would those be?
AR: I would suggest the ‘Braised Lamb Shank with Chard and Damson Plums’ as it reflects our concept extremely well in a delicious dish.
CP: What culinary delights can guests and connoisseurs expect in the future at Raffles Istanbul?
AR: We will be showcasing seasonal menus and specialities from the different markets of Istanbul. Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city with many layers of culinary culture. Here, you don’t feel as if you are in Asia or Europe; it has a character of its own. I think this is in the DNA of the country. We will showcase the dishes as the ‘new classics’ and the past favourites will be served in a contemporary manner.
CP: A few rapid fire questions, Chef. What’s your favourite dish to cook?
AR: It’s artichokes and lamb.
CP: Favourite meal to eat?
AR: Koftes – Meatballs. Love them!
CP: Favourite holiday destination?
AR: The mesmerising Aegean coasts of Turkey.
CP: Thank you, Chef. It was a delight speaking to you!