For many great chefs the idea of designing a menu that incorporates seven styles of cuisine would be a daunting prospect. Gaining the knowledge and expertise to balance several types of fare requires no small amount of dedication and plenty of skill. But for chef Mahmoud Turkmani, the opportunity to showcase his love for food from across the globe was a major selling point.
Having grown up in Damascus, Syria, and developed an appreciation for Mediterranean dishes, Turkmani has spent close to two decades travelling around the world in order to broaden his knowledge of ingredients, techniques and flavours. Combining his passion for both food and travel he was presented with the perfect opportunity to showcase what he has learnt when appointed as head chef of 7Elephants in Dubai’s financial district.
“Ever since moving to Dubai 17 years ago I have made time to travel,” explains Turkmani. “There is always curiosity and something new to learn, so every summer I try to spend a few months in another country. It is a never-ending learning process.
“I spent time in Lima in Peru working in an amazing Inka restaurant and at that time not much was known about their style of food. Now it is a huge hit, but this was very much at the beginning. It was amazing learning about the influences on Peruvian food, one of which is actually Japanese cuisine. They use local ingredients but use Japanese methods and even deliver more of a Japanese taste.
“That of course led me to become interested in travelling to Japan and last summer I was able to do that. It was incredible as wherever you go in Japan they have the same technique. I worked with Alain Ducasse and I trained in Le Meridien with French chefs but they all had different styles and techniques. But in Japan virtually everyone has the same style so you have to adapt to them.”
Before long Turkmani made the move to Dubai in order to study at the Emirates Academy. This led to roles in a number of high end restaurants including The Residence at The One & Only Royal Mirage, Cigaretto at the Jumeirah Group and at Margeux by Alain Ducasse.
While enhancing his culinary skills under some top-class chefs in Dubai, Turkmani would continually summer abroad. He spent time in Germany, Spain, Lebanon and Turkey, and in each country would develop his understanding of its cuisine. It also led to the Syrian chef developing a taste for differing ingredients from all over the world.
“I have always thought about the answer to the question of whether I have a favourite style of food. And yes I am Syrian and love my culture and food, but at the same time it depends on my mood as I love to sample food from all over,” admits Turkmani.
This passion for exploring different cultures and sampling different dishes allowed Turkmani to perfect the menu at 7 Elephants. Informed that he would be able to choose the style of food, he decided to include dishes from Italy, Mexico, Britain, Bali, India, Spain and the Middle East.
Creating such a varied menu was a huge challenge for Turkmani and his talented team of chefs, but it gave the restaurant a chance to appeal to a huge cross section of the population in Dubai.
It is Turkmani’s hunger for culinary knowledge that has allowed him to create such a varied menu at 7 Elephants. “Everyone brings their own culture when they move to Dubai so you get to learn how other countries understand food. It is nice to see how they see things and use the ingredients they bring from their home country,” he says. “It’s like a free ticket for me to that chef’s home without actually flying there. Dubai is a place now where you can get anything you want.”
So what can we expect to see on the menu at 7 Elephants in the near future? Well it all depends on where Turkmani decides to explore next. He is already planning a trip to Germany so perhaps the restaurant may soon also have a Bavarian influence.
“I am always thinking of where to go next and there is a new up and coming chef in Berlin that I would love to work with,” adds Turkmani. “He has also spent time in Japan so I think it would be great to work with him and I have already been in contact.
Even with his hands full in Dubai it seems Turkmani will never tire of his endless culinary journey. Wherever he travels to next, you can be assured that 7 Elephants and Blue Marlin will profit from his extra knowledge.
WORDS: ADRIAN BACK