AK Demirhat fondly remembers growing up in Ankara, Turkey, surrounded by a family of good cooks.
“In Turkey, we usually prefer to eat sitting down,” he says. “It’s rare for us to snack throughout the day or eat on the go, and it’s also unusual to have potlucks where each person invited to dinner brings their own dish to share.
“And one of my mother’s rules was that we ate at the same time every day as a family. My mother’s cooking is so delicious that we often had visitors – relatives, friends and neighbors – who joined our meals. While my mom cooked the main entree, my dad helped her make side dishes.”
It’s that same love of cooking that he brings to the table at his restaurant, Cafe Ostro, in Dalton, Georgia, serving dishes from his Mediterranean and Middle Eastern homeland. The cafe opened in 2018 and was recently honored by the Georgia Business Journal as having the best Mediterranean cuisine in North Georgia in its Best of Georgia awards.
About Cafe Ostro
– Address: 240 N. Hamilton St., Dalton, Ga.
– Speciality : Homemade Mediterranean cuisine
— Entry price range: $10-$16
– Hours: 11am-9pm Monday to Saturday, 11am-8pm Sunday
– Telephone: 706-529-7538
– In line: cafeostro.com
(READ MORE: Café Ostro is the best Mediterranean restaurant in Georgia)
Q: What is your first culinary memory?
A: In high school, my parents both worked long hours, so I started cooking for my brother and myself. The first thing I remember making was a pasta dish.
Q: Who had the biggest influence on your decision to become a chef?
A: My mother, of course.
Q: Do you think Mediterranean cuisine has become more common in America?
A: From now on, yes, because the Mediterranean diet is a combination of essential foods. For the past five years, the Mediterranean diet has been voted the best diet in the world.
Q: Do you have people coming who have never tried Middle Eastern food before?
A: Shawarma is the item most people have never tried before. This is a dish with rotisserie-simmered chicken or beef and lamb combined with authentic spices. There’s a man named Jeremy who, after trying it for the first time, described it as “an excellent spice mix, and the chicken is very tasty”.
Q: What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
A: The spicy cheesesteak sandwich. It has spiced beef served on bolillo bread (a crispy French bread shaped like a soccer ball) with fresh jalapeno peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, mozzarella, and our Ostro Spicy Garlic Sauce.
Q: Why did you decide to open a restaurant in Dalton?
A: As Dalton grew, it was great to add something different.
Q: What does “Ostro” mean?
A: Ostro is the name of a wind on the Mediterranean Sea that blows from north to south.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned that you had been named as having the best Mediterranean cuisine in North Georgia?
A: I was very excited and happy. My team and I work very hard, so getting the award was very meaningful.
Q: What is one thing people might not know about you?
A: For my last meal, I would like to have Chicken Shawarma topped with a light Ostro sauce.
Q: Who are the other three people at your table for your dream dinner?
A: Cristiano Ronaldo (professional footballer), chef Gordon Ramsey and actor Morgan Freeman.
Q: Do you have a favorite cookbook or website that you love these days?
A: I never had a cookbook. I’m a huge Gordon Ramsay fan and follow his shows and recipes. I also pay attention to the Food Network and some herb and superfood websites.
Q: If you hadn’t become a leader, what would you have done?
A: I would be a footballer.
Q: What is the most important kitchen equipment for you?
A: My little kitchen knife.
Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?
A: A large slice of chocolate cake.
Q: What is one of your favorite recipes to make at home?
A: Bulgarian pilaf. I learned to cook this dish when I was a teenager and I still cook it and enjoy it all the time. I love its taste and the health benefits of Bulgarian.
5 tablespoons of olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium tomato, diced
1 cup bulgur (not fine)
2 cups boiled water
1 teaspoon of salt
Crushed red pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons of butter
Add olive oil to a nonstick pan. Add chopped onion and chopped peppers, and cook 5-8 minutes over medium heat.
Add the diced tomatoes and cook, 5 to 8 minutes, until the tomato juice is absorbed. Add bulgur and boiled water, salt, crushed red pepper and butter.
Combine all ingredients until well blended and simmer until water is absorbed. If the bulgur is undercooked, add 2-3 tablespoons of boiling water and cook for another minute.
Contact Anne Braly at [email protected] or annebraly.com.