Chef Cüneyt Asan – The Professor of Meat!
A Talk with Chef Cüneyt Asan
Learning the art of Meat with Chef Cüneyt Asan famously known as the ‘Professor of Meat’ and the founder of Turkish chain of Restaurant Günaydin at Souk Al Bahar.
Turkish cuisine is diverse, it mixes Ottoman cuisine, with Central Asian flavors, Middle Eastern influences, and Balkan palate. Being one of the oldest civilization in the world and the cradle of the mighty Ottoman Empire, Meat has a special place in the Turkish cuisine. A symbol of strength and power, meat has been the staple of the Sultan’s diet and hence plays an important part in the present day Turkish fare. While the Turkish Doner and Kebabs are world famous for their juicy taste and flavor fullness, Turkish food is steadily cementing its place on the culinary map of the world as a delectable fusion of flavors from different cultures.
Aptly named the ‘Professor of Meat’ Chef Cüneyt (pronounced Junaid) is the co-founder of popular Turkish chain of restaurants, Günaydin. On his recent visit to Dubai, we caught up with the Chef to learn more about the Turkish cuisine at the stunning Günaydin Restaurant situated at the picturesque Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai. The man has an unyielding energy that is born out of his passion for his work and an emotional pride he feels for how far he has come. Proudly proclaiming to have revolutionized the concept of Butcher Shop in Turkey and having an impact on the art of butchery around the world, Chef Cüneyt laughed and said, “There was a time no one would marry their daughter to a butcher, but today the concept has changed.” A mentor/teacher to the Social media sensation Chef Nusret Gökçe (aka the #salt #bae) and to his father and brother and many other famous butchers and chefs in Turkey, Chef Cüneyt has earned the titles of the “Fastest Butcher in the World” and “The Professor of Meat”.
Born in in Erzincan, a province of northeastern Turkey, Chef Cüneyt started working as an apprentice at the Bostancı Butchers’ Market after moving to Istanbul during his primary school years. Due to his family’s financial struggles, Chef Cüneyt realized that only with honesty and hard work he can achieve real and professional success in life. Walking us through his childhood memories and his background, Chef Cüneyt said, “I started my job when I was just ten years old and by the time I turned 17, I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
Consumed by dedication, he was focused on paving a legacy for himself in the culinary industry. At the young age of 21, Chef Cüneyt had already developed his skills and grew from an apprentice to the master of his realm, however, he was forced to leave his passion behind to join the military service. After paying his dues to the country, Chef Cüneyt left the military to discover that the butcher shop he had previously worked in was now owned by the two brothers Nimet and İsmet Yalçın, who eventually offered him a partnership in order to keep the butchery’s legacy alive.
He named the butcher shop Günaydın (meaning Good morning in Turkish), which was inspired by a newspaper with the same name carrying the slogan “May the sunrise, the rooster crow and it be called Günaydın”. Günaydın was first established as an American bar and a library, breaking new grounds as a first of its kind in Turkey. Within five years, Gunaydin developed a meat production farm in Malkara-Tekirdağ in order to produce its own meat and supply raw meat to restaurants and factories in İstanbul.
“We source our own lamb meat from our own farm in Turkey, we have a livestock of nearly 10k lambs, Günaydın is one of the few restaurants in the world that produces its own lamb meat. The other types of meat that we serve here at Günaydın come from Australia and America. We serve two types of food in Gunaydin; steak and Turkish food. We work with pure meat, marinate it for 28 days and only use salt to add flavor. If the meat has the best quality then it doesn’t require anything else to improve its taste.” said Chef Cüneyt with a resonating sense of pride and satisfaction.
By 1992, Chef Cüneyt and his partners were the meat suppliers of the majority of Istanbul’s restaurants and due to popular demand, they decided to launch their first restaurant in Çamlık, Küçükyalı. Following its success, the second branch in Bostancı, located on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, was launched in 1994 and the list kept growing after that with the Kozyatağı, Etiler and Suadiye branches. When asked what he thinks about the connection between meat and the Turkish cuisine Chef Cüneyt said, “In our country, there are lots of different people from different religion, races, and cultures. There are Armenians, Arabs, Syrians, Kurdish and Mesopotamians but they all have a meat culture through which they engage with each other. I believe that I have connected people through Gunaydin and our meat.”
Talking about his passion as a butcher and Chef Cüneyt takes his work to another level, he doesn’t believe that he has a job, to him, it is something he eats, breathes and teach. “This is not my job, it is my passion and love. I don’t see it as a job, I feel that I was born to be a butcher and nothing makes me happier than my job.”
While Günaydin has received numerous awards including the most recent Timeout Dubai Awards, Chef Cüneyt certainly have expansion plans on his agenda. “We are in Baku Azerbaijan and expanding in GCC, with two more branches opening up in Dubai and of course in New York, totally they have 43 restaurants worldwide and we want to see more restaurants in the Middle East, Europe, and America.”
Having achieved success and fame with hard work and passion, Chef Cüneyt feels the happiest movement in his life came when he was given the title of the Professor of meat, and he loves being recognized as one. “I knew this job was special so I also wrote a book to share my knowledge and experiences with others. I am very happy to be the meat professor, and If I was to be born again I will do the same job.”
Check out the video of the unstoppable Chef Cüneyt at Günaydın Souk Al Bahar, Dubai, as we spoke to him about himself, his line of work and all things meat…