Emre Yeşil, 36, a visionary chef who continues his profession with unwavering passion. For about 13 years, he has been honing his skills as a chef. His participation in renowned food festivals in Türkiye has earned him numerous awards, showcasing his exceptional talent. He has also received culinary training at prestigious culinary academies, including the Istanbul restaurant of Turkey's Master Chef Mehmet Yalçınkaya. In 2018, he embarked on a new culinary journey in the United States, working in esteemed restaurants in New York and New Jersey.
Emre's greatest dream is to one day open his own restaurant with a unique concept and create captivating food videos. When Şamdan Restaurant changed ownership after 26 years, there was anticipation regarding the changes that would be introduced to its menu. With the skillful touch of this young chef, the restaurant successfully reached a new clientele, captivating them with a variety of exquisite flavors.
In a recent interview at Şamdan Restaurant in Cresskill, New Jersey, we had the pleasure of speaking with Emre, the talented young chef, along with the restaurant owner, Yusuf Şimşekyılmaz. Emre's 13-year culinary career, which began at Adana Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and now flourishes in the heart of New Jersey, is a story worth sharing.
Emre, the son of a chef, grew up in Istanbul, where his family owned a traditional kebab restaurant. However, Emre's passion for cooking extended beyond kebabs and led him to explore diverse culinary styles.
The turning point in Emre's career came when his sister invited him to assist with a food promotion event at a boutique hotel in Mersin, Türkiye. Little did he know that this trip would open doors to new opportunities. While there, Emre crossed paths with Levent, nephew of the owner of Alaturka Restaurant in New York. This encounter eventually led Emre to New York City in September 2018.
Embracing the challenges of adapting to a new environment, Emre joined Alaturka Restaurant, where he encountered a different culinary mindset. The transition required him to navigate various aspects, from ingredient sourcing to adjusting to a different kitchen structure. Despite the initial adjustments, Emre's passion and dedication shone through, and he quickly became an integral part of the team.
Dreaming of one day owning his own restaurant, Emre's path crossed with Yusuf Şimşekyılmaz, the owner of Şamdan Restaurant, during his time working at Ora Café. When New York City faced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the closure of many establishments opened up unexpected opportunities. Emre and Yusuf, recognizing each other's culinary skills, embarked on a partnership that would transform Şamdan Restaurant.
Under Emre's guidance, Şamdan's menu underwent significant changes, reflecting his innovative and creative approach to cuisine. One of Emre's standout additions was the mouthwatering Şaşlık, a dish that captivated diners with its unique flavors and presentation. Emre's versatility as a chef allowed him to excel in various culinary styles, and his ability to adapt and excel wherever needed further solidified his role within the team.
When it comes to customer satisfaction, Emre and the team at Şamdan prioritize feedback and constantly strive to exceed expectations. They carefully evaluate customer reactions and diligently work to improve any shortcomings in their offerings. By maintaining open lines of communication with patrons, Emre ensures that every guest's dining experience is exceptional.
Emre's love for gastronomy expands beyond Turkish cuisine. When dining out, he enjoys exploring a variety of flavors from different culinary traditions. "If I'm eating out, I tend to gravitate towards cuisines other than Turkish. Greek cuisine at Elia in Rutherford or Taverna Kyclades in Astoria are among my favorite spots," he shared.
When asked about Emre's forte, Yusuf Şimşeyılmaz, the owner, stated, "There is no task that Emre cannot handle. He excels in every aspect, regardless of the culinary domain. His creativity knows no bounds, and he can whip up extraordinary dishes that others wouldn't even dare to attempt."
Are chefs generally difficult to work with due to their egos? Emre believes this notion is a thing of the past. He emphasizes the importance of continuous learning and exploring new horizons. "To truly excel, you need to immerse yourself in various culinary cultures and learn from different chefs. Each chef brings their own unique methods and approaches, which enhances your own skills and makes you more versatile."
When it comes to gauging customer reactions, Emre pays close attention to their feedback. He is attentive to any dish that fails to resonate with the customers. Whether it's a half-finished plate or a rejected meal, Emre takes it as an opportunity for improvement. He examines the situation, striving to understand the underlying issues.
Beyond kebabs, what else does Turkish cuisine offer in terms of traditional dishes? According to Şimşekyılmaz, we have mantı (Turkish dumplings), lahana sarması (stuffed cabbage rolls), and bamya (okra). Our most acclaimed traditional dish is mantı, he proudly states.
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