Worldwide known famous Chef Hüseyin Özer inspiring people with his life story emotionally states his interest and love for Konya
The founder of London-centred SOFRA and ÖZER restaurants, Chef Hüseyin Özer is really pleased with the intention that he has faced in Konya. He says “Konya is my hometown and my village. I felt a huge love there. I love everything about Konya, the food, the people. If the people in a place are not nice, the food won’t be nice, either.”
Çiğdem Kurut met with the famous Chef and drew his story up for The Konya News.
A success story which shows a life that was urged to be lost was reborn from its ashes. Not a series, not a movie, or not a sad story of Ömer Seyfettin which teaches us a lot while disappoints at the same time. If a success story is written, it will definitely belong to Hüseyin Özer and he is the protagonist of this story. It should be him so that we can channel our talent of disguising each failure of ours into other directions. We should remember his name and say “if a person wants, he/she can succeed anything”. Here is our interview with famous Chef Hüseyin Özer who is the owner of Sofra Restaurant in London. We talked with him under the sea breeze while we were eating our delicious fish prepared by Murat Kargılı, the owner of “Karışma Sen”…
ÇK: Your life is a story that can be filmed. How was your struggle which started at the age of 7?
HÖ: My struggle started when I started to eat bread and drink water. When I was 5 years old, I was poisoned. When I was 7, at the age of school time, my father said “he is not my son”. He got divorced from my mother and got married to another woman. My stepfather wasn’t intended to send me school. I became literate by writing on the stones and walls with black sticks. I also started to destone in the fields when I was a little child. For long years, I was a goatherd. I learnt how to carry wood on my back then. I thought to hang myself when I was a child, but I thought my mother and my grandmother and abandoned this idea.
ÇK: How did you find an exit?
HÖ: We had and uncle Şerafettin in my village. I used to compare my future to him. The headman in our village beat him repeatedly and always humiliated him because he was an orphan. I was an orphan and I was humiliated, too. But I didn’t want to live like that and I was offended. So, I decided to leave the village. My stepfather gave me 20 liras loan and I left the village and headed to Ankara. I was little but Ankara was a big city. I had no money and nowhere to stay. For a while I stayed at a public toilet in Sıhhiye. I was unwanted in Tokat and became a gamin in Ankara. I started to work in a restaurant with daily wages. This job was the start of everything.
ÇK: Why did your brother want to poison you? Why did your mother want you to kill your father?
HÖ: My mother offended to the words that came from my father’s mouth. The poison was a matter of land. The mother of the children, my stepmother didn’t want me as a third child. But I gave the expenses of the school in London for the child of my brother who wanted to poison me then. And I gave an Istanbul and Ankara tour on a Rolls-Royce to my uncle who beat me a lot when I was a child because I wanted to go to school and I let escape the animals.
ÇK: If you had had a normal childhood, would it have been possible for you to be the place where you are now?
HÖ: The God sealed my fate. Shakespeare couldn’t have written all the plays. The god sealed my fate. I do not know!..:)) Actually I didn’t want to be a big guy; I wanted to be a nice guy. I read books to improve myself. After that, I decided to learn English. While I was going further step by step, I was in London. I didn’t have money to buy plane tickets so I went there by bus after a long journey for days. I was always in a struggle.
ÇK: What is your wish that you couldn’t reach during your life?
HÖ: I do not have any. You can’t live with wishes that you can’t reach. On the other hand, I love living. I did everything I wanted without making it a wish.
ÇK: What do hunger and being full mean to you?
HÖ: Both of them make addiction and both mean nothing for me. I was used to hunger so I always ignored it. And now, I am used to being full. It doesn’t matter for me. I didn’t get myself used to ingloriousness and dishonesty. I never want to hurt or disappoint someone in my life. If one of my customers leaves my restaurant sadly, I will lose my sleep. If someone who trusted and loved me is disappointed because of me, I will lose my sleep. I think the biggest sin is to defraud somebody and in our job it is bad service and bad food.
ÇK: Do you remember the first dish you cooked?
HÖ: I do not remember the first beat from my childhood and I do not remember the first dish I made, either. I was beat a lot as a child. I started to cook because I didn’t like the food where I worked when I was a child. The number of the beats and the dishes are indefinite.
ÇK: Is there a thing that you wanted to eat a lot but you couldn’t eat when you were a child?
HÖ: It’s just the bread. I say this intimately. I used to buy a loaf of bread. My aunt used to put two more next to it and make it three so that my uncle would beat me more. The other boys used to get bread and escape, but when I took one, they used to call my uncle immediately. I always got caught.
ÇK: Today you have the power of getting on the most beautiful car and eating the most delicious food. Can you spend money easily?
HÖ: I cannot. It is not easy to spend the money that belongs to a foundation. I always have responsibilities. I have been running a restaurant in the most important centre and the busiest place of London, the capital. At the same time, I have been supporting the NGOs including Turkish-English Chamber of Commerce in London by being a sponsor for years. After that, I have founded the “Hüseyin Özer Education Foundation”.
ÇK: You visited Konya already. What do you think about the food in Konya?
HÖ: I love the people of Konya. There is Nermin Halıcı, Advocate Ahmet Ergun and his familly, and my other friends. (If I start to count them, this interview won’t be enough) There are my teachers, lecturers, organizers and everybody. Konya is my hometown and my village. I felt a huge love there. I love everything about Konya, the food, the people. If the people in a place are not nice, the food won’t be nice, either.
ÇK: When people say Konya the “fırın kebab” and “the etliekmek” comes to mind. Do you like these foods?
HÖ: A lot. But when you say Konya love comes to my mind. The people in Konya have showed to me a great respect. And when you say Konya, I also remember the burn of fire players’ hand nails.
ÇK: In Turkey, we have a lot of cities with various and rich dishes but they have difficulty in becoming a brand. What do you suggest them?
HÖ: I have had different suggestions for years. I say them please cook Turkish food. Do not cook foods from other cultures. When our Chefs cook food from different cultures I think that it is a shame on them. I think that this is disrespect to Turkish geography, history and culture. I cook Turkish dishes in abroad. There is only one foreign food in my menus and it is written as Japanese style. I do not make things up.
ÇK: While you are becoming a brand, what did you pay attention most?
HÖ: One of the most important things in our success is that we have trainings. Our trainings include various topics such as clothes, eating, bringing back the customer, human relations, drinking wine, choosing wine, healthy life, diet, self-care, rhetoric, body language, making organizations, balanced nourishment, hygiene, observing the market, making strategies, personnel training, how to keep the restaurant full, and how to be happy at the same time. We try to teach all of them. We try to understand the benefits of being a hundred percent honest, loving yourself and human beings all over the world without any discrimination, being happy in your life, being a manager and being a general director. We try to teach how to be a complex manager. In our restaurants, for years we try to train our personnel about restaurant management, the food and the service. Some of the most important things are how to arrange a menu, how does a menu fit to financial circumstances, how to feel a forthcoming crisis, how to know the customer profile and how to arrange the prices.
ÇK: You have been working on natural products. Why?
HÖ: I want my food to be natural as myself. I am natural and I want my food to be natural, too. Being natural means a quality life and natural food means good life.
ÇK: Have you ever considered starting an initiative in Konya with your brand?
HÖ: Of course. If there is an entrepreneur, he/she can contact me. If he/she wants to do a job with me, I will help without any provision. I will do it for my country, my people and for humanity.
ÇK: How do you evaluate the food culture of Turkish people?
HÖ: The owners of restaurants in Turkey have a confused mind. They are on the wrong way. And this is because of the greed of earning a lot of money. If people behave in accordance with their culture, the problem will go away itself. I hope the God will make us better.