While it may be fairly common that a chef runs more than one restaurant, the restaurants typically aren’t an ocean apart. Having restaurants in Turkey and Manhattan is just one of the ways that Chef Celikbas stands out in the crowd of culinary masters. Chef Celibkbas created the menu for Kosebasi, based in Turkey, and helped launch it for its opening in 1995. While running this restaurant, he and a team of others decided that it would be fun to open a similar restaurant in Manhattan in 2006. This led to the birth of Pera Soho, which continues to be a critically acclaimed dining destination.
TT: You are trained in the Adana style of meat preparation. Can you give a brief explanation of how it is different?
CC: The “Adana” style of meat preparation requires a very good knowledge of carcass anatomy and butchering skills. This is because the namesake preparation under this style, the “Adana”, is neither a steak cut like a loin or tenderlon, nor a ground meat preparation. The “Adana” involves the ability to separate a carcass into its component parts and re-compose it according to a specific recipe calling for certain amounts of meat from different parts of the animal. At Pera, our lamb adana consists of lean only from the leg and loin sections, combined with marbling only from the rib and flap sections. While this is just the beginning of the preparation for an “Adana”, it is probably the most crucial step and sets up the stage for proper marinating, resting, skewering and cooking to follow.
TT: Is the menu at Pera Soho similar to the menu at Kosebasi? What is the main difference?
CC: The is a significant amount of overlap between the menus of Kosebasi and of Pera. Where Kosebasi is different is in its selection to pay homage to certain specific culinary regions and dishes of Turkey, whereas Pera expands its menu into featuring seafood and vegetarian dishes inspired by the Eastern Mediterranean as well.
TT: For those who haven’t dined at Pera Soho, what menu items best express the style of food there?
CC: Well, if I were to name a single specialty item at Pera Soho it would be the “Shaslik” Steak. Again, “Shaslik”, like “Adana”, is not the name of a single dish but rather an approach. We feature this preparation with beef sirloin, lamb loin and chicken breast, in addition to having our proprietary recipes for turkey and duck which we feature as specials (think Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, for example), however, as different as their marinades are, all “Shashlik” steaks require the thin-slicing and marination of lean cuts of meat, followed by skewering and cooking over an open-flame grill.
TT: What is the greatest difficulty in being involved in two restaurants that are separated by thousands of miles?
CC: Jet lag. The flight is approximately 10 hours in each direction and there is a seven-hour time difference. It takes me about 2-3 days each way to properly adapt to the time zone I arrive at. Nowadays, there are more direct flights, in high season as many as four a day. This allows me to choose the departure and arrival times that I feel will work best for my schedule upon landing, allowing me to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible. Delays notwithstanding of course, that is a whole other issue.
TT: In a city that is known for great cuisine, what makes Pera Soho unique?
CC: The setting and the cuisine go hand in hand in making Pera Soho unique. If I may, I will answer your question with a question: Where else in the world can you enjoy a lamb “Adana” cut roll and a fine glass of wine, while simultaneously thinking you are watching a Mediterranean sunset yet being subtly reminded that you are still in NYC by the nightly light-up of the Empire State Building?