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Hakan Ogun left a career in IT to follow his bliss at Cafe 34 Istanbul

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Hakan Ogun came to the United States from Turkey as an IT professional, but after 15 years in the field, he followed his passion for food and cooking – a passion instilled as a young boy in his mother's kitchen – by helping close friend Jack Davis develop the menu and market restaurant/hookah bar Cafe 34 Istanbul on International Drive.

As an immigrant chef, do you feel the need to compromise in order to satisfy a broader palate?

When we were coming up with the menu, the main goal was authenticity and freshness. But with only so many ingredients we could import from Turkey, we were limited with what we could offer our customers and had to compromise a little. I don't know if it's the soil or pH balance of the water, but locally grown Mediterranean produce, like tomatoes and green peppers, just taste better. For example, we offer babaghanoush and shakshouka on our menu, but because the eggplants are just different here, the dishes just don't taste the same. Over the years, we've found a close match to the eggplants we get in Turkey from local farmers here and I think we're about 90 percent authentic as far as taste is concerned on both dishes.

PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

How are you reducing food waste? What are you doing to make the restaurant more sustainable?

We purchase and use the ingredients for that day so there's no waste. If we run out of a particular dish on the menu, then it's done. We're not going to make a second batch because we can't! We're also in the process of analyzing our energy consumption.

What was your first food addiction?

Definitely Turkish white rice with butter! (cafe34istanbul.com) ▲

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