In this article, Kalkan Turkish Local News talks to owner Mehmet Bilgiç, and we take a look behind the scenes. KTLN was given access to all areas, on a busy evening in May.
The aubergine (patlıcan), is a popular vegetable in Turkey. It features in many traditional dishes. So the name of this restaurant is itself, evocative of Turkish cuisine.
But the menu, which is quite extensive, despite being trimmed down a little from last year, is more than simply Turkish, because it has been inspired by Mehmet's travels abroad.
So, what is the secret of the Aubergines longevity, in such a highly competitive environment?
The thick of it
Mehmet is a hands on owner. If you peek through the curtains, into the kitchen, you will see him standing there, in the thick of it - leading from the front.
His team includes staff who have been at Aubergine for many years - one of them for 14 years. Members of the kitchen staff all know their respective roles.
Mehmet holds up his hands to explain. "When you work with your hands, you don't tell each finger what to do. Your hands and fingers automatically work together, without thinking".
"It's the same in our kitchen. We all know what we have to do, and when we need to do it. Most of the time, there is no need to speak".
Is there a team hierarchy? Mehmet sees himself as the coach, with his team of players. But when they are working, there is no need for a hierarchy. Every role is important.
The A team
So what are those roles? Everyone in the kitchen is allocated a task, and normally that will be their job for the entire season, unless they 'bring on a sub' for an absent colleague. Amongst the roles, there is a grill man; the oil man (frying); the salad man; the cold meze man; the fish man, etc.
Below: Three happy chefs.
There is even a 'plate ready man'. It is pointless having different food items ready to go, if there is no plate to put them on, so it is the responsibility of one man to ensure that the right plate is ready at precisely the right time.
Up to three of the kitchen team can be working on soups, at any given time. They don't keep a large pan on the go, just in case; soups are made on demand.
Below: This is where your steak is cooked, on a charcoal grill.
And there is Mehmet, who we would call 'the finisher' or 'quality control', looking at presentation and co-ordination - aiming to get meals for the same table out at the same time.
Below: Fresh bread from the wood burning oven.
Each member of the team has their own place - their own workstation. Nobody encroaches on anyone elses spot - not even Mehmet.
Below: The finishing touches to a fresh salad.
The kitchen deals with starters and main courses, whilst all desserts, drinks, and washing up, are managed in a separate area.
Below: Lots of chocolate in these desserts!
If you can't stand the heat...
The main kitchen has a wood burning oven, which is kept running every day between 10am and 1am, the following morning. There are conventional electric ovens too - often 5 of them will be on, but at peak times all 10 will be working.
Mehmet has a number of these ovens in front of him, keeping meals at the right temperature, until the whole order for a table or group is ready to be dispatched.
Which begs an obvious question. How do they cope with the heat of the kitchen in the summer? "You get used to it", says Mehmet, shrugging it off, as if it were a minor issue. "We have two air-con units in the kitchen. And it also helps that we have a very tall ceiling, 5 metres high, which means that all the hot air rises to the top, above our heads".
And all that heat means a hefty electricity bill. Mehmet tells us how much he spent last year, and it's an eye-watering amount.
Are you being served?
So, when your order is taken, what happens to that piece of paper, and how is the order processed?
The first thing that happens is that it is split into your food requirements, and your drinks order. The drinks slip goes to the bar area, and the food order is posted up on the kitchen wall.
As soon as a new order comes in, everyone in the kitchen spots it and has a look. "We don't stop what we are doing and study it", says Mehmet, "You just take in the details in a couple of seconds, and get on with what you need to do".
Hardly a word needs to be spoken. The team is so experienced, they know what they have to deliver and how long they have got to do it.
Below: A starter gets a final check before it goes out.
The piece of paper with your order on it, goes first to the 'starters' area, then into the main part of the kitchen, and finally to a spot in front of Mehmet, by the long serving hatch. When the order has been taken to the table, the completed slips are put on to a spike, and at the end of the day, these are reviewed, so that they know what supplies need to be ordered for the following day.
Mehmet acknowledges that it is impossible to get things right 100% of the time. "Of course, 100% is what we aim for, always, but from time to time, things can go wrong".
"Where this happens we try to put things right as quickly as we can". The fact that Aubergine has been around as long as it has, suggests that they must be getting it right most of the time.
Ready Steady Cook
Every now and again a bell will ring. What does that mean? Well, it can mean a few things. Most often it means that a meal, or set of meals is ready to be taken to the table. But it can also be a signal for the waiter to clarify the order, if it has not been written clearly enough.
Interestingly, it can also be a request from Mehmet, for a waiter to let him know how long a table will be finishing their starters, so the kitchen can get their timing right on the delivery of the main course.
When Mehmet asks this question, it is not acceptable for the waiter to simply say something like, "They are almost finished". Mehmet wants to know a number - exactly how many minutes will they be. Nothing less will do.
Watching Mehmet work is fascinating. Everything is at his fingertips. He has a bank of grill/ovens in front of him, and underneath them is a range of stainless steel drawers, containing all manner of goodies - sauces, dips, olives, tapenade, herbs, grated cheese etc. In fact everything needed to provide that finishing touch.
Below: Mehmet in his element, in the kitchen.
I watch as he takes a ladle full of sauce to go on to a steak. As the long-handled utensil moves the 40 or so centimetres, from the pan to the plate, Mehmet holds a small, white plate underneath, to prevent any drips falling on to the other dinner plates.
And sure enough, a couple of drips land on the small plate, and so having served it's purpose, it is sent off for washing up. Many of us would just go for it, and not worry about the odd drip, but not Mehmet.
The pots and pans may be black and the oven doors brown, but that's just from constant use and the burning heat. The Aubergine kitchen is clean. In the couple of hours that I am there, I see surfaces being regularly wiped clean. Of course, they know that I am there watching, stood quietly in a corner, but after a while they ignore me, and it seems to me, that they are not doing anything different because I am there.
Below: The gas hob and grill area - spotless.
At the end of the night, every night, the kitchen is cleaned as though it were being decommissioned for a long time. In other words, it's a pretty thorough routine.
Open all hours
The Aubergine is one of those restaurants that stays open all year round. However, clearly, their busiest time is in the main tourist season. They serve breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks and evening dinner, which means that staff are on a rota to cope with the highs and lows of demand.
Mehmet himself can be found at the restaurant for several hours a day, but the big push is in the evening. He aims to get there for around 6.30pm, which means he can have time to talk to his team - not about work things, but just general chat. "It's good to have that time before we get busy. We don't have too much time to chat once the orders start coming in".
Keeping up appearances
Just like many other restaurants in Kalkan, Mehmet is always thinking about how he can improve things, from one year to the next. It usually goes beyond a lick of paint, with new signs, or new flooring, or new water spraying fans, or the latest water filtration system, etc.
Competition is intense, but this is good for customers. Competition means choice and drives ever improving standards.
Below: Hasan and Hakan - front of house.
The X Factor
We should point out that Kalkan has over 100 places that you can eat and drink. Kalkan Turkish Local News prides itself on being impartial, and we know there are lots of restaurants out there, working hard to give you a memorable evening out - you can find them in the KTLN Business Directory.
We chose to give you an insight into just one of them - one of the more established places to eat in Kalkan. However, we don't recommend any specific restaurants - that's for you to decide. Kalkan regulars know only too well that there are so many great places to choose from.
The choice and quality of food on offer, is probably one of the reasons that so many people come back to Kalkan, time after time. Perhaps these restaurants are Kalkan's X Factor.
Wherever you choose to eat in Kalkan, afiyet olsun!
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