Selin Kiazim, Co-Owner, Oklava

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Other 9th May 2017

Great British Menu 2017 chef, Selin Kiazim co-owns Oklava with Laura Christie whom she met whilst guest cheffing at Ember Yard. Their debut offering is a celebration of Selin’s Turkish-Cypriot background with a modern twist.

Selin always knew she would end up in the food industry, citing her family and particularly her grandparents as early inspirations. After studying at Westminster Kingsway College Selin’s first job was working with Peter Gordon at Providores in Marylebone which led to her becoming head chef for the sister restaurant, Kopapa. She is now the co-owner and chef of Oklava which takes its name from a rolling pin used to make breads, pastries and pides.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Selin to find out how Oklava came about, why she wants to champion more vegetables and aspirations to open a second restaurant.

Manuel Vazquez Roast Cauliflower
Manuel Vazquez Roast Cauliflower

How did you get into the industry?

I had a love of cooking from around 12 years old. I used to watch every cooking programme going. At the age of 19 I enrolled in at Westminster Kingsway College on a Professional Chefs Diploma and took it from there.

Where did your passion for food come from?

I have grown up in a family where food is so important and was inspired by my grandparents who used to grow everything they ate. I think it was inevitable I would end up working in the food industry. It’s also a little indescribable, cooking is such a joy for me and comes so naturally, it never feels like work.

You co-own Oklava with Laura Christie, how did that come about?

I met Laura whilst she was Operations Manager of Salt Yard Group. I did a one off guest chef appearance at Ember Yard, so she knew of me then even though we never met as she was away at the time. A few months later Laura got in touch and we discussed our ideas for a restaurant, I already had a firm plan of what sort of restaurant I wanted to open but Laura’s ideas and ethos fit perfectly with the sort of place I wanted. We took a slight gamble on one another, which has worked out brilliantly as we share the same vision for the future and work really well together.

>>> Related: Great British Menu chefs 2017 - London/South East heat

Can you tell me more about Turkish-Cypriot cuisine.

Turkish-Cypriot cuisine is similar to Turkish cuisine but simpler I would say. Cyprus is a small island so the food reflects what the island grows. It’s all very fresh using lots of lemons, parsley, tomatoes etc. The vegetables growing in a sun-drenched island taste amazing. It’s very much an outdoor lifestyle so you can imagine all the food that goes with that.

Oklava
Oklava

How have people perceived the restaurant and your take on Turkish-Cypriot cuisine?

I think Oklava has been perceived really well. Customers really love our take on Turkish food, it intrigues them. Most Turkish/Cypriot customers love it too, as they can taste the flavours they are used to but see how it is put in front of them in a different way. They don’t all get it though, some people just want their huge portions of kebabs at cheap prices, and I accept that because I can’t please those people.

How do you think Oklava is challenging people’s perception of Turkish-Cypriot?

Most people’s perception of Turkish cuisine is all about kebabs and meat; I don’t think people really see beyond that. At Okalva we try and show the wide range of different styles of food that come from Turkey, Middle East and Cyprus. Most people don’t realise there is a huge amount of vegetarian dishes from these parts of the world, so I’m always really keen to showcase vegetables on an equal footing to meat/fish dishes.

Inspired by your Turkish-Cypriot heritage do you find it challenging coming up with new dish creations?

It is definitely challenging but that is one of the most rewarding parts for me. I take great satisfaction in having that moment when a dish finally comes together and I have a story, ingredient or memory that links it to my heritage.

Favourite ingredients

Pomegranate molasses – in dressings and as a glaze.

Lamb chops – barbequed and glazed with date molasses

Turkish feta cheese – crumbled into Courgette fritters with mint

Peaches – poached lightly in a vanilla syrup

Duck – gently barbequed whole with baharat spices

Where do you find your inspiration?

I think a lot about the dishes my Mother and Grandmother used to cook and the food I was brought up on. But I also take inspiration from eating out and reading books, ideas come to me at really random times and I will jot them down for a later time when I can think about it more.

Is it challenging sourcing Turkish ingredients?

It is a little challenging. I have got used to it more and adapted some dishes to use the best of what I can get hold of from other parts of the world that may have a similar flavour profile. As Turkey is not a part of the EU, the spectrum of ingredients is not as large. But, I think we do well to source some fantastic ingredients, especially our olive oil from North Cyprus.

What’s your favourite ingredient you like to work with?

Pretty hard to pick just one but, I guess lamb. It is my favourite meat and I just love working with all the different cuts, I find the flavour works incredibly well with all middle-eastern/Mediterranean type ingredients.

Who has been your biggest inspiration throughout your career?

That would have to be my old boss Peter Gordon, he is a huge inspiration to my cooking and not only that but a chef who’s example I follow everyday, his voice is my head when I’m in the kitchen.

Pearl Barley with Kale and Yog
Pearl Barley with Kale and Yog

What is your process of menu and dish creation?

I normally have a list of random ideas I have jotted down and then as the seasons change I refer back to them and then develop the ideas further using books and research on the Internet. As we have been open over a year now I have a collection of dishes that are real hits so it’s great to be able to put them back on the menu throughout the year.

How often do you change your menus?

Some of our dishes have become regulars which stay all year and the other dishes I try to change with the seasons, sometimes twice in a season, depends on how many ideas come to me.

What is your favourite food season?

That would have to be summer. I’m all about the BBQ’s so I find this time of year so inspirational.

What’s next for the future?

I have my debut cookbook coming out in May 2017, which is very exciting. Also, we have hopes of opening another restaurant but let’s see what happens.

>>> Read more in the Menu Watch series here

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Other 9th May 2017

Selin Kiazim, Co-Owner, Oklava

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