• Lezzet puts sustainable food on your plate (Lezzet)Source: Lezzet
Melbourne locals keep coming back for this chef's modern spin on Turkish cuisine.
Audrey Bourget

21 Jan 2021 - 10:28 AM  UPDATED 1 Feb 2021 - 8:52 AM

Kemal Barut started cooking at 13 when his mother temporarily left home to have surgery.

"She left me things in the freezer, and we did a couple of demo runs so I could learn. Often, the best way to learn is from desperation, when you're thrown into the deep end," Barut tells SBS Food.

His mother, Fatima, is from Ankara, and his father is from a small neighbouring village.

Kemal Barut and his mother Fatima.

After a few years in Australia, the family moved back to the Turkish capital. Barut was four.

"It's common for locals there to grow and grind their own wheat, and make their own dough. It's uncommon to buy bread commercially packaged," he explains.

"A lot of mum and grandma's cooking was cooking at its very core."

"A lot of mum and grandma's cooking was cooking at its very core; growing carrots, tomatoes and eggplants, picking a watermelon, raising animals." 

Borek, kofte and pomegranate lollipops were Baru's favourites.

After eventually returning to Melbourne, his mother Fatima Barut kept cooking big family meals, which often featured a dozen dishes. "The table was always rich, and everything was produced at home. We never went out to restaurants.

"If we had a birthday or a special event, we celebrated at home," says Barut. 

While he began cooking as a teenager, it wasn't until his early 20s that he took it more seriously.

"Back then, Turkish food in Australia was predominantly known as kebab and dips, glorified BBQ food," he says. "The food was not being done justice. I didn't grow up with that food at home."

After working in Turkish restaurants across Melbourne, he joined Lezzet in Melbourne's inner suburb of Elwood in 2003, and bought the restaurant two years after.

On his menu, you'll find dishes just like his mum makes them, like the spinach and feta filo pastry cigars. "Some things stay the same, you don't muck around with them," he says.

Other dishes are vaguely inspired by family recipes. Fatima Barut's charred eggplant becomes an eggplant salad with tahini, yoghurt and walnut snow.

Lamb is also central to the menu, with Barut and his team breaking up six whole lambs every week.

"It's something I never appreciated as a kid. I watched mom make cheese or yoghurt and thought 'this is how it's made'.

"But you get to Australia, and people buy it in a container," he says. "It's a good chance for the boys in the kitchen to deal with the whole lamb instead of asking for specific cuts."

He says every part of it is used, making its way into slow-cooked and grilled dishes, as well as kofte.

The slow-cooked Anatolian lamb shoulder with fig and date jus has been on the menu for over a decade. "It's very sticky, very soft. You don't really need a fork, it melts in your mouth," says Barut.

The Istanbul leg of lamb is slow-cooked in a clay pot and served with smoked eggplant. Inspired by testi kebab, Barut has modified the dish by adding lavash on top. You break the crispy flatbread and mix it with the lamb.

The Circassian chicken is served with the traditional walnut and stale bread paste, as well as spicy coriander salsa and paprika butter. However, vegetarian dishes are also aplenty at Lezzet. Think lentil kofte, mushroom pilaf and zucchini fritters.

And while Lezzet is Barut's domain, his mother still likes to come in once in a while to see how things are running.

"People stand up like soldiers when she walks in, doing her checks," says Barut, laughing.

81 Brighton Road, Elwood
Tue–Fri: 5:30pm-10:00pm
Sat–Sun: 12:00pm–3:00pm and 5:30pm–10:00pm

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