Harun Dönmez has been a hero of a bitter struggle in the kitchen for 35 years. His adventure which started in the kitchen as a child has made him a person who has been highly spoken by famous chefs in Turkey and all over the world. Chef Dönmez made the Selçuklu cuisine a brand in Konya with the name of “Lokmâhane” and he has been serving with his two restaurants in Konya.
While he is talking about his tiring, difficult and adventurous life, Dönmez says that “Lokmâhane has become real step by step during our struggle in life. Each step was full of efforts.”
Who is Harun Dönmez? Can you mention about yourself?
Harun Dönmez. I was born in Beyşehir, in 1973. I attended primary school in Beyşehir, Başgöze. I went to secondary school in İzmir, but I couldn’t go to high school because of economic problems. In summer holidays, I worked at restaurants as dish washer and apprentice in tourist attractions. When I started to love the job, I left school and started to work as waiter. As I worked, I started to learn more details about my profession and adopt my job. I love serving people who come to our place and training people who want to learn about the job. For this reason, I want “Ahievranlık” to be eternal and next generations should learn about this philosophy. I take it as my duty and advice my apprentices to perceive it in the same way.
How did your relation started with kitchen?
I worked in various cities so I learnt different things from different kitchens. Of course this was not a conscious choice. After a while, I realized that the things I learnt were precious. Working in the kitchen contributes a lot. If you really want, you can learn everything at any age. I still try to learn new things. When I was 25, I felt that iı was ready to open a restaurant. I told myself that I already knew the job and I opened my place. However, I saw that I wasn’t ready and I went bankruptcy. I couldn’t accept it and I reopened my restaurant. But again there was something missing and I decided not to urge it and corrected my mistake.
I started all over again. I questioned my mistakes and worked in different places for ten years. My motivation was a saying of my friend “a brave man goes on even he falls down” and I decided to open a restaurant again. As I didn’t have enough money in those days, I re-used my place on Main Road in Konya. I really had lots of difficulties but in spite of those difficulties such as the rumours about my failure, my restaurant managed to survive.
How did the idea of “Lokmâhane”develop?
I was obsessed with culture cuisine in Konya and I made some researches. In order to promote and make people taste culture food I opened the first Lokmahâne on Mengüç Road. The road was an isolated place. People constantly asked me “Why did you open your restaurant there?” But, we invested a lot in that restaurant. One of my dear friends Ahmet Ergun gave the name “Lokmâhane” to our place. We had difficulties through the process but if you do something well, people find you. In order to raise awareness and protect our culture we managed to do it and presented a great place to Meram.
There are hundreds of restaurants in the city. What makes Lokmahâne different?
There are a lot of successful restaurants in the city. But when they say they are representing Konya cuisine they prefer to serve dishes such as Etliekmek, Okra soup, FurunKebab, Höşmerim. However, Konya cuisine is not restricted with these dishes and it is very rich indeed. There are more various dishes of Konya cuisine such as Terhun soup, Tutmaç soup, Tirit, Sündürme, Papara, Gaygana, Aubergines, and sour Squash. We joined into a culture and adapted this home-made, cultural food into restaurant kitchen. As a result of this, people know prefer us.
As I said before, we wanted to raise awareness. We were aware of something and we were given lots of awards such as Ateşbazı awards, YD gastronomy awards and Star awards. We are on duty and we love our job and for this reason people prefer us. We have a successful restaurant which famous people drop by. Moreover, Lokmâhane is a restaurant that continues to serve in its first place.
Will Konya be able to have a voice in the world literature with Selçuklu cuisine?
If you offer, of course Konya cuisine will be able to have a voice in the world literature but you need to promote it. When people come to Konya, if only some food such as etliekmek, furun kebab, and okra soup are available, you cannot manage to promote the cuisine. Yet, Konya culture food includes one of the richest cuisines in Turkey. People in Konya should protect this culture and this kind of places. I have never been a selfish person and always appreciate the culture and cuisine in Konya.
Why do you think Konya cuisine cannot improve or not well-known compared to smaller cities?
We can say that there isn’t much information about Selçuklu cuisine, but still there is some. The food booklet of Ali Eşref, the books of Nevin Halıcı, and the Konya cuisine books of Saime Yardımcı light the way for us.
If you were invited to dinner, what kind of menu would you like to have from Selçuklu cuisine?
I always say that Tutmaç soup, meat with rice and cold compost is enough.
What are your advices about gastronomy and tasty steps to the visitors?
Nowadays, visitors can easily find Yağ somunu, Tandır böreği, kebabs, and etliekmek everywhere.
You are a project person, what is your dream project?
I have a dream. I would like to establish live kitchen museum and academy. I have talked to Hasan Kılca, the Mayor of Karatay Municipality, about the project. He has liked the project very much and he will arrange a suitable place behind the Mevlana Museum. We are happy to sustain this culture and leave it to the future generations. The current Mayors of the city are really interested in gastronomy.
I would like to thank to Uğur İbrahim Altay, Hasan Kılca, Mustafa Kavuş, Ahmet Pekyatırmacı. After long years, our mayors support us about gastronomy and they work in order to take the city a step forward. We have to use our information upon the subject. I would like to thank each of them.
I have a dream “Kitchen Museum and Academy”
I would like to thank you and I would like to congratulate you for your success to publish newspaper in English and introduce Konya culture to the tourists.