Istanbul native Rifat Altuntas honed his skills alongside some impressive culinarians in that magnificent city, many of whom went on to high-profile posts, including Julien Piguet (Brasserie Lipp, Zurich), Martin Satow (Grand Hyatt Seoul) and Fabrice Giraud (Maison Blanche, Paris). At the H Cuisine, an Orlando steakhouse with Turkish leanings, Altuntas applies the knowledge and experience he gained from working in Istanbul's finest bastions of beef.
As an immigrant chef, do you feel the need to compromise authenticity in order to satisfy a broader palate? There will always be compromises. The biggest one is that sometimes we aren't able to get the ingredients traditionally used in Turkish cuisine. Either they are too expensive, or they're unavailable. So, we've had to adapt in order to make our food taste as authentic as possible, and I think we've done a good job. In restaurant kitchens, you have to be flexible and produce the best food with the equipment and ingredients you have. We are able to get the main Turkish spices – the ones that really make Turkish cuisine unique – and very good olive oil. These are perhaps the two most important elements of Turkish food.
How are you reducing food waste? What are you doing to make the restaurant more sustainable? We cook fresh food from scratch every day. We minimize food waste because our kitchen processes and recipes are developed in a way that maximizes the use of every ingredient. Food costs are obviously the most important reason for minimizing waste in a restaurant, so we take the time to choose seasonal ingredients that can be used in their entirety.
What was your very first food addiction? Zeytinyağlı bamya, or Turkish okra in olive oil. I used to do my homework in the kitchen, and would watch my mother cook every day. Eventually, I started helping her, and learned to love the process of making delicious food. She made this okra dish that was particularly good, and that's what I make when I'm missing home. (thehcuisine.com) ▲