It’s a crispy cool Tuesday morning and the sun is shining across the horizon of Dalston, East London. I arrive at a whitewashed house and am welcomed by Murat Aktas. As a courtesy of warm turkish hospitality, I am offered a small cup of turkish coffee, made by boiling ground beans with water above a stove until bubbling. At the table I join Melissa Atay, co-founder of TLA, their current project. In this beautiful, organised, artistic room, we discuss all things turkish.
Bank, Melissa & Murat
Hello who are you and how are you today?
My name is Murat Aktas. I’m a Turkish culinary and culture explorer who has been living in London for the last decade. Today I’m feeling great although its going to be a busy day between meetings.
What did you have for breakfast?
I had my green cold press to start with and then avocado with poached eggs.
What’s your favourite dish to eat?
I have many favourite dishes in different cuisines but the winner is my mothers traditionally cooked “Meyhane Pilav” which is a special recipe rice.
Which cuisine do you enjoy making most?
Turkish of course!
From top left clockwise: Muhammara, Aubergine with Pomegranate & Fava with Dill
What’s your favourite drink (alcoholic & non-alcoholic)?
Lately I’ve been obsessed with Yosma’s cocktail called (toasted pumpkin seeds, rye, grape molasses, sherry, raki. I love Raki. Non alcoholic I love any kind of cold press juice with ginger.
What is the worst food combination you have come across?
I don’t get mac cheese pizza
Can you tell us briefly what is TLA (Turkish Love Affair)?
TLA is a pop up and supperclub concept that my business partner Melisa and I founded less than a year ago. Its main and only focus is to share Turkish foods with a little western twists, incredible wines and culture with all our guests who are experimental food enthusiasts and love tasting food across the globe. TLA not only offers the traditional recipes but it also offers beautiful regional wines from Turkey and recipes from my mums, grandmothers recipe book and the Ottoman Sultan’s most favorite and most cooked dishes. TLA is a truly Turkish dining experience!
How did you come up with the idea behind this concept?
Having been enjoying all the Turkish restaurants in the city, we decided to add another slice to the cake with our custom made menus and events. Its not just about having a good product, but also the way we present them. We want people to feel that they are in Turkey, eating in our kitchen with us and our family.
What were you doing before TLA?
Way back then I was a makeup artist, but I didn’t want to be part of that industry anymore. I have an online travel agency focusing on Turkish culinary travels. Before TLA since my youth years I travelled all around Turkey to taste the regional dishes from all the towns. I have had a chance to share my knowledge and experience for the book “Turkish Delights” by John Gregory-Smith – later I hosted few Turkish supperclubs this year at Milk&Honey, and Home House then TLA was born. Melissa is a wine expert. She distributes wine from Turkey to many countries.
What do you think are the difficulties in introducing Turkish cuisine into a western market?
I don’t believe in any difficulty as long as the “product” you introduce is good and the people you are introducing to are open minded. The UK has been overly welcoming with the Turkish cuisine and we have reached a very high number of events as well as many fans of our recipes. The only difficulty may be the names and pronunciation of the foods.
What are the responsibilities of your job?
To eat, drink, taste all foods and find out the stories behind them so we can make our own stories with our own experiences.
Quince with Candy Floss
What are the challenges of your job?
When money becomes involved that’s when things get complicated. Because it was not meant to be that way, we do this out of passion, but at the same time we can’t live in London without having an income.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
We love feeding people and have great conversations over the table.
Where would you like to be in the next five years?
We would like to have introduced Turkish culture and cuisine to as many people as possible in all different countries all over the world and hope to form bridges between all cultures.
Can you tell us something that goes on behind the cameras that we don’t see?
I am quite messy in the kitchen and sometimes it just looks funny.
Why should we go to Turkey?
Can you give us 3 tips for a person who wants create their own supper club or food culture business?
Find a concept, do very good research and always be the first to taste the food
Best way to destress from the kitchen?
Yoga and Meditation
Best life advice you’ve been given?
Trade your expectations for appreciations.
What key lessons have you learnt from the food world?
I have learned that good food and good people come together for a reason. I have learned that people are always hungry for new tastes. And also I learned how rich the Turkish culture is, the larger it spreads the more there is to explore.
What is your secret to success?
What’s your office like?
So we don’t have an office. We don’t even actually need once. We like to work at a shared table at home or outside at a member’s only club. Sometimes its good to work on a project with people around you as it can fuel the creativity of the work.
What other projects are you working on (or would like to work on)?
I have an interest for street food so TLA might come up with a surprise very soon.
Where are you going now?
Murat Aktas @muraktash | Melissa Atay @mellisatay