Somer was born and spent the first 25 years of his life living in Turkey. His passion for cooking grew from the presence of strong talented women in his life. Over the past 20 years, Somer has made a great contribution to the Australian hospitality industry and now is chef/owner of his two restaurants, Efendy and Anason. Somer is a proud supporter of females in his day to day, we talk to him about where that passion and support stemmed from.
What role did women play in your decision to become a chef?
I was lucky to spend a lot of time in the kitchen of my grandma, Akife, who raised three children by herself as my grandfather died when she was pregnant with my mum. If you imagine the challenges of raising three kids in a new republic in the middle of World War 2, you would understand her discipline on not wasting food and creating excellence from scarcity in the kitchen. She has been my biggest inspiration.
What are some of the cultural differences between commercial kitchens in australia and turkey?
If you asked me the same question, say, 10 years ago, it would have been a very different answer as cooking was a technical profession for culinary high school graduates dominated by males from a certain region.
But now, thanks to my contemporaries studying abroad and not coming through the typical ranks, 3 chefs out of top ten best in Istanbul are women, (Aylin Yazicioglu of Nicole, Semsa Denizsel of Kantin and Didem Senol of Gram). In saying that, out of the big cities and in most hotels, commercial kitchens are still dominated by male chefs with an authoritarian culture.
Have there been particular women who have made a big impact on your career?
The only chef I trained under was my mum, so it’s easy to answer this question. She thought me a lot about being a chef but more importantly about being a decent person. As for the chefs that I admire and follow for inspiration, Semsa Denizsel of Kantin is a chef and friend that I learn a lot from thanks to social media and her amazing YouTube channel. Others that I follow closely are Jacqui Challinor, Christine Manfield, Lauren Murdoch and Ana Sortun of Oleana in Boston, MA.
What unique attributes do women bring to a commercial kitchen?
Working with my mum, it took me a while to understand why she was such a strict and authoritarian boss in the kitchen while also being one of the kindest and softest persons out of kitchen. Working in a strong and strictly male dominated industry, the only way she could cope with the pressure was by being even more authoritarian and stricter than them. I am happy to see that the culture is changing now as we need more, thoughtful and nurturing mentors in the kitchen (and in any other workplace) than authoritarian, disciplined and strict dictators of the past century.
In your opinion, is it becoming easier or harder to recruit women for back of house roles?
I think recruiting chefs is getting harder in general as we are now more aware of the challenges of being a chef. I just strive to employ the right people for our business regardless of their gender and background. But you attract people you and your business connect with. Somehow I don’t think it is a coincidence that four out of nine of my full-time kitchen chefs are women with Turkish backgrounds.
Can you name some young women in hospitality whose careers you’re most excited about?
I have always enjoyed Nomad in Surry Hills but since Jacqui Challinor took over the kitchen it is getting better and better. I always take my new chefs there to inspire them. Being an offal freak, my favourite current restaurant offal dish is her smoked lamb tongue with burnt chilli butter.
I am also thrilled to hear that Lauren Murdoch is getting back to the kitchen with a new project. Please put the brains on the menu.
I also think Australia will hear a lot about my sous chef Ozge Donmezoglu in the near future, she is not only technically capable but also university educated in Gastronomy and she has the best systematic approach in the company. She has a bright future if she stays on this path.
Does the way you mentor young women differ to how you mentor young men?
Not really. We have the same standards for everyone who wants to learn but in general I find that young female apprentices in my kitchen are a lot more focused and decisive about their career than most young men at the same position.