CZN Burak, Red Rose Cake and Fırat Çelik: Turkish foodie stars

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A number of Turkish chefs and restaurateurs have recently made headlines worldwide for their social media accounts and innovative ways of bringing food to the screen. Move over Nusret, the Salt Bae, there is a new wave of Turkish foodies finding international fame.

Most foodies will be familiar with Burak Özdemir, the impressive 27-year-old proprietor of the Hatay Civilizations Table (in Turkish Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi) chain of restaurants, who also goes by the moniker CZN Burak and is regularly referred to as “Smiley Bae” and the “Smiling Chef.” Özdemir has been entertaining his social media followers throughout the pandemic with his larger-than-life preparations of mouthwatering Turkish culinary specialties.

I first caught wind of Özdemir when I saw a video of him constructing a mini replica of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa high rise out of butternut squash only to pour a sumptuous glaze over the top. Over the top is Özdemir’s game as most of his flamboyant cooking demonstrations involve oversized dishes and lots of skilled and speedy chopping. In July, Özdemir soared to new levels by posting a video on his social media accounts in which he is chopping an onion on a cutting board in the open sky onboard a powered paraglider. The video went viral, adding to his already over 26 million followers. Deserved of the fame, Özdemir is also extremely charitable and shares videos of himself feeding street animals and constructing tent houses for them. Özdemir also delivered gifts and served up food for underprivileged children on the occasion of Eid al-Adha. The young entrepreneur also now has five restaurants under his belt.

Burak Özdemir. (Photo from Instagram/ @cznburak)

So, if you want to watch him frying a block of cheese into Turkish potato chips, cracking an ostrich egg over a grill covered in cubed meat or prepping a humongous burger, check out CZN Burak’s social media platforms, or better yet pay a visit to one of his many restaurants, the newest of which opened in Dubai on Aug. 15 in the Dubai Mall.

CZN Burak Burgers is his second restaurant in Dubai and his first to focus exclusively on burgers. Özdemir’s cuisine and chain of restaurants Hatay Civilizations Table is a call back to his upbringing growing up in Turkey’s southeastern province of Hatay, which is located on the Syrian border, while his family originated from the Syrian capital of Damascus. There are “Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrası” restaurants in Istanbul’s Taksim, Etiler and Aksaray and one in Dubai, in addition to his latest burger joint. While his traditional restaurants serve up decadent meat dishes including kebabs, beef shanks and stuffed ribs, CZN Burak Burgers is a more casual and family-oriented restaurant that has Angus burgers and brisket served on potato buns and hot dogs with Burak’s special sauce, and to top it all off künefe – one of Özdemir’s specialties – for dessert.

Who’s up for a burger in the sky?

Turkish chef Yiğit Uğur Aydal recently made an attempt to outshow Özdemir by grilling a burger while paragliding at 2,000 feet (610 meters). That’s right, Aydal, a chef from Adana, posted a video two weeks ago in which the chef prepares and dresses a cheeseburger using a grill and a kitchen blow torch in the sky. Aydal was joined by qualified paraglider Onur Avcu in the endeavor, which took place over the Seyhan Dam in Adana and ends with both paragliders chowing down on the burger while soaring. The video of Aydal’s elevated burger has since gone viral and is now making the rounds in newspapers throughout the world.

A pear (L) and pear-like cake (R) made by Tuba Geçkil. (Photo from Instagram/ @redrosecake_tubageckil)
A pear (L) and pear-like cake (R) made by Tuba Geçkil. (Photo from Instagram/ @redrosecake_tubageckil)

Extreme bakeover: Turkish pastry chef’s lifelike portrait cakes

Tuba Geçkil, aka “Red Rose Cake,” has been a popular social media and pastry chef personality for a while now, but her sweet replicas of everyday items and deceiving displays recently received accolades in none other than The New York Times. In an article entitled “Let Them Eat Fakes” that was published last month, the author goes into detail on the history of trompe l’oiel cakes, which are designed to resemble that which is not cake. It was a video Geçkil posted last summer of a realistic red Croc shoe that when sliced into turned out to be cake that started her viral legacy, gaining the attention of the article’s author and garnering her a story in People Magazine. Geçkil’s video, which earned nearly 30 million views within days of her posting, is also credited with inspiring the trompe l’oiel cake-cutting craze that made the rounds on social media last year.

Nonetheless, The New York Times article recalls Geçkil’s realistic mock renditions of a roll of quilted toilet paper, a frothy bar of soap and two ripe bananas, black-flecked and joined at the stem. The article that centered on Geçkil in People magazine includes videos of cakes she has made resembling an aloe plant, a grill board with köfte and fries, a cup of Turkish coffee and even a cake designed to look uncannily like raw chicken! Geçkil’s raw chicken and Croc cakes also got a mention in Time Magazine last year as well as in countless other domestic and international publications, which credit her with inspiring the realistic cake-cutting trend.

A cake made by Tuba Geçkil. (Photo from Instagram/ @redrosecake_tubageckil)
A cake made by Tuba Geçkil. (Photo from Instagram/ @redrosecake_tubageckil)

In Turkey, it is her replicas of busts of famous figures such as former U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that have made the headlines as well as a cake she prepared in May in honor of Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca that was literally mistaken for a true sculpture. Not only a pastry artist, Geçkil is also an award-winning chef and team captain of the Turkish Chefs Federation.

Turkish actor-restaurateur becomes social media phenomenon for dancing

One of the greatest joys during the lockdown era of the pandemic would be the arrival of a new uplifting dancing video by 39-year-old German-Turkish actor Fırat Çelik and his nephew “Ozi.” The duo, who are based in Paris, where Çelik owns the cafe “Au Plaisir,” spent their time in lockdown whipping up some hilarious and skilled dancing routines that quickly went viral. People even began posting their own attempts at the duo’s choreographed routines. Suddenly this actor and restaurateur had become a household name for his surprisingly good dancing skills depicted in hilarious videos of face-offs with his younger nephew and an obviously more professional dancer. Likened to the actor Matthew McConaughy, luckily for his fans at home, the charismatic actor is currently in Turkey to film an adaptation of the popular U.S. television drama “The Affair.” The Turkish version of the ultra-popular TV show will be called “Saklı” and will air on BluTV, the country’s top streaming platform.

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