Always wanted to be a Chef?
If you answered yes to the above, good news. Executive Chef Deniz Coskun has confirmed that applying for a position on a reality television show is not necessary and being a successful chef does not require pre approval of anyone who taught you to cook. Deniz currently heads up a team of 156 across 11 venues and has worked behind the scenes of Pig ‘N’ Whistle since 2012. We managed to tie him down to ask a few questions about his role and what it entails.
Tell us a little about yourself!
Well, I don’t have a MasterChef punchline for what inspired me to be a chef. It was a lot of different reasons! Like my parents owning a restaurant in Holland when I was very young, my many holidays to visit family in Turkey who always cooked up amazing feasts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also, looking after my sick grandfather for a couple of years meant I was helping him cook dinner from a young age. I got a job after school at a local cafe and was offered an apprenticeship to be a chef at the right time. I accepted and here I am, 15 years later.
I was born in Holland and lived there until I was twelve years old at which time we moved to Australia. I have been here ever since. My father is Turkish so I have spent a lot of time in Turkey and have grown really fond of Middle Eastern cuisine. Over the years I have worked in many different kitchens and with many different styles. I have been with the Mantle Group since 2012. Before that, I worked at the Gallery of Modern Art looking after their Restaurant, bistro, café and functions. I spent a big chunk of my career working at Bretts Wharf and before that, I did what most chefs do. I worked for shorter periods in a range of different restaurants, to gain as much experience as I could.
Can you take us through a typical day in the life of Deniz Coskun?
No day is ever the same and for that, I feel quite blessed. Generally, my week starts off with a lot of office work and finishes with cooking on the weekend. My favourite day is probably Thursdays as it signals the end of office work and the start of working in the kitchen.
Unfortunately it starts with my alarm clock going off at 4am! I drive from my house on the North side of Brisbane to Rocklea Markets. Myself and Mantle Group Executive Sous Chef Nick Baker spend two hours walking the markets looking for new season fruit and vegetables, picking which lines we think are the best in the market. We pass that information on to our buyer to ensure we get the best fruit and vegetables available. Here we often come up with new menu ideas and as the seasons change, it alerts us that it is time to change menus. I am a big advocate of supporting local producers so I enjoy being able to walk the markets and seeing where all the produce comes from. We use tomatoes from the Lockyer valley with pumpkin, lettuce, rocket, potatoes and much more, also sourced locally.
From here I head to our production kitchen in East Brisbane for a weekly meeting with the team. I meet with Andy who is in charge of our production kitchen, John (Butcher) to check all the meat products are up to our standard, Laura (Pastry Chef) to discuss new recipes and upcoming menus and Glen (Warehouse Manager).
By the time I leave it is generally just before midday so I grab some lunch and head over to our corporate office. I spend the afternoon answering emails and catching up on writing new menus, costing recipes and researching new ideas. At 3pm it is time for our group management meeting for the week and after that it is off to one of the venues for dinner service. I spend a few hours in the kitchen then it’s home time around 9pm. I finish the day with my wife, a late dinner and a glass of wine.
What’s your background and how does this translate through to your cooking?
Being half Turkish and having spent a lot of time in Turkey over the years it has always amazed me how simple things, like their bread, tastes so amazing. In Turkey, a bakery runs almost 24 hours a day and the wood-fired oven never cools down. Between 5am and 8pm you can buy fresh hot bread. Most bakeries only make one variety so they spend years perfecting it.
Small street vendors only sell one thing like wood fired corn, simit, pide or kokorec… I didn’t really appreciate or fully understand the importance of it until I worked with Chef Alastair McLeod. He really showed me the importance of using local produce that is in season, and keeping food simple. He used to say that there was no need to over complicate a dish. Just do a few things really well and let the produce speak for itself.
This background and learning has made me the chef I am today. I work very hard to find farmers and producers who have amazing produce. The great thing is that if you are willing to make some calls and drive out to the regions, you can find a lot of it right here in the south-east.
What advice could you give to an inspiring chef?
Start young as the hospitality industry is not easy. It requires a lot of hard work for not much money in the beginning. If you start young and your parents support the idea of living at home, it makes things a lot easier.
Be prepared to work for years before you start to receive recognition for your hard work. Become a chef because you love to cook, not because you want to end up a celebrity!
Don’t listen to the ‘nay sayers’. I was told when I was 17 by my TAFE teacher not to apply to work at a great restaurant because I was not good enough. I did, and I did get the job. That was a key turning point in my career. Had I listened to him, I would not be where I am today.
Lastly, persevere through the tough times. Work to be the best not only in the amazing food you create, but also in the business, and you will succeed.
You’re cooking a three course meal for the Prime Minister. What do you plate up?
- First course would be Noosa spanner crab with Mooloolaba prawns, avocado, assorted citrus segments, vine ripened tomatoes and red elk.
- Second course would be some John Dee Sirloin, Jerusalem artichoke puree, king brown mushroom, baby carrots and a porcini butter
- Third course some beautiful Upper Caboolture strawberries, couer a la crème made with Barambah organic yoghurt, granola, raspberry gel
You’re cooking for the wife! What do you plate up?
Well, it is usually the other way around! If I was to cook it would be very simple – Sucuk & eggs with a fresh baguette. Traditionally served for breakfast, Sucuk is a Turkish spiced sausage. It is cooked in a pan with eggs then eaten on some bread. It was a breakfast staple whilst we were on our honeymoon in Turkey and since become her favourite food.
Editor’s note: Want to give sucuk a go? Here is Deniz’s go-to recipe.
Lastly, favourite place to eat in Brisbane (besides all the venues you work for!)
Cook like a Pig ‘N’ Whistle Chef
Check out the recipe here for Pig ‘N’ Whistle’s famous Beef & Guinness Pie!