When chef Suleyman ‘Sulo’ Kirbancioglu opened his modern Turkish restaurant at Ettalong Beach on the New South Wales Central Coast, he changed the way Australians saw Turkish food.
While Turkish food has long been associated with chunks of meat on sticks and slow braised vegetables, in Sulo’s hands this ancient cuisine became lighter and more accessible. Sulo created a new template on how to combine the food of his grandmothers, or nene, with the modern needs of the local population focused on health, flavour and freshness. His restaurant Safran, hit the perfect balance.
Where is Safran?
We are on the beautiful Central Coast at Ettalong Beach on the Brisbane Water estuary, an hour north of Sydney and an hour south of Newcastle. We are in the Galleria building that has a feel that it could be in another part of the world. Inside are high backed leather chairs sitting at polished wooden tables in a large room with sapphire blue-coloured walls dotted with framed images of scenes from the Ottoman Empire.
It's a long way from where you grew up?
I grew up in a village near Bolu between Ankara and Istanbul. We would fish for trout in the rivers and forage for fungus in the mountains. We had chickens for eggs and meats and cows for yoghurt and butter. My mother was a very good gardener. We always had loads of green beans, okra, eggplant, cucumber, peas and she even grew wheat for bread and for kisir – a salad of cracked wheat.
What brought you to Australia?
By 2002 I was ready to explore the world. I saw a position was available in a reputable catering kitchen working for the top end of town in Sydney. They sponsored me and I fell in love with this beautiful city full of friendly people. By 2006 I was back working with a big hotel one night when I found myself helping a Turkish friend in his restaurant in Glebe. It was all shasliks and the usual old-fashioned fare. Don’t get me wrong – I love that food, but I just knew it could be better. That night I met a beautiful young woman who I would later marry. We went to Turkey and travelled around for six months before returning to her home on the Central Coast. I fell in love with the region. We started a café serving burgers and eggs benny. But something was burning inside me. I had this vision for a restaurant that combined the best of Turkish traditions with a lighter aesthetic, taste and feel.
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