"In many ways, I think Turkish food is one of the most misunderstood cuisines in Australia, a belief that was an inspiration for me when I decided the time was finally right to open Efendy.
I wanted to introduce a real Turkish restaurant to Sydney to prove that the food from my homeland is about more than just belly dancers and greasy kebabs.
I spent my childhood in Kadiköy, a multicultural neighbourhood on the Asian side of Istanbul. Our neighbours were Greek and Armenian, and we’d share most of our dinners; it was a chance to learn about the vast ethnicity that makes Turkish cuisine so interesting and rich.
My parents, aunts and uncles were part of the modern generation of traditional, or communal, families. The only way my grandmas could keep the family together was to bring everyone around the table at least once a week, and it was their brilliant cooking that not only kept us closer as a family, but also introduced me to the power of good food.
Then there was my mum who, for as long as I can remember, has been in the restaurant business. I fell naturally into the role of her apprentice – my mum’s perfectionism made it hard to hold on to kitchen staff, and I was the only one who could put up with the pressure! From her, I learned the importance of having a clear plan and following it.
By the age of 25, I was running two mezze bars with Mum and, although it was a great life, I knew I couldn’t do it forever. I had to develop myself both academically and professionally, and learn to stand on my own. I moved to Sydney to do an MBA, then met and fell in love with both my wife and the city, and I have been here ever since – that was 17 years ago.
I return to Turkey every year for a month, not just to Istanbul, but to other cities as well, and these trips continue to be a huge source of inspiration. Last year, I visited Gaziantep, a city in the south-east, and this year, my aim is to conquer Antakya, a southern border city known for its multicultural, unique cuisine.
When I first opened Efendy five years ago, I was so worried about impressing the critics and wound up following the trends of the time: I even used truffle oil! But I quickly learned that to survive in Sydney’s dining scene, you have to be inspired by where you come from, not by where you are.
It’s hard to convince the public that Turkish mezzes are not made of dips and that the Turkish bread we know here in Australia doesn’t actually exist in Turkey. But I believe that in the past five years, we have managed to change perceptions and, for that, I’m proud of my team and proud of having a restaurant like Efendy."