Elif Oskan
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Elif Oskan

Turkish avant-garde

Elif Oskan is creating a stir with her modern interpretation of Turkish cuisine. Her "Gül" is in great demand. She got her passion for cooking from her mother.

"Merhaba!", the staff loudly call when someone enters the establishment. They see them off with "güle güle" – at the same volume. The "Gül Restoran" in district 4 in Zurich is hard to beat when it comes to a warm welcome. Elif Oskan is co-owner, host and chef, and contributes significantly to this atmosphere. She and her partners Markus Stöckle and Valentin Diem have really hit the bullseye with Gül. She is proving that Turkish cuisine is more than just doner kebabs. She serves classic dishes such as kofte, lahmacun and pide; the menu also features delicately flavoured dishes such as kohlrabi salad with a dressing made with sunflower seeds, black sesame, black cumin and isot chilli.

Elif Oskan was practically born with Turkish food. "My mother is an amazing cook. And I'm not saying that just because she's my mother. When I think back, it's incredible how much effort she always put into it", she explains. Elif Oskan grew up in Zurich Wollishofen, and always ate Turkish food. Only when she became a teenager did Elif first get the urge to go to McDonald’s. "I loved the McChicken Sandwich. And my mother knew it. So she just made McChicken Sandwiches for me at home. That's love!"

A city girl in the mountains

Elif eventually wanted to be in the kitchen herself, and did an apprenticeship at "Romantik Seehotel Sonne" in Küssnacht, Zurich. The teenager was talented and eager to learn. "I was obsessed with cooking something Wellington style (fillet in pastry with a mushroom duxelles). So for my 18th birthday, they put Pigeon Wellington on the menu – just so I could prepare it." Following the apprenticeship, Elif went to work at "Mesa" with Marcus G. Lindner. "That was tough, but we had an easy-going team." In retrospect, these were not unknown team players: Nenad Mlinarevic and Sven Wassmer were both at "Mesa" at the same time.

After an excursion to "Rigiblick", the city girl then dared to do something completely different: she spent a season in Zermatt, in Restaurant Heimberg (now "1818", ed.). Even if life in the mountains wasn't to Elif's taste, she had a life-changing encounter there: Heston Blumenthal ("The Fat Duck", 3 stars) came skiing in Zermatt and was a guest at "Heimberg". "We were total groupies. We introduced ourselves and he told us about his internship programme." Elif applied, was accepted, and moved to London.

We were total groupies. We introduced ourselves and he told us about his internship programme.

Elif Oskan

Fateful encounter in London

There she met Markus Stöckle, from Bavaria, who had been part of the "Fat Duck" brigade for five years. The two fell in love, but when it came to relationships in the workplace, Heston Blumenthal was very clear: not going to happen! Elif and Markus had to make a decision – only one of them could stay. It was clear to Elif that that would be Markus, and she returned to Zurich. The two then maintained a long-distance relationship.

Elif began working at the "Maison Manesse", after which she started up her own business. As "Miss Marshall", she enchanted the whole of Zurich with her dessert creations and nitrogen ice cream. Markus Stöckle also came to Zurich in 2016. Together, they enjoyed successful pop-ups such as "Wood Food", "Wild Bar" and the "Taco-Fenster". Then came the restaurants: first "Rosi", then "Gül", and finally "Gül Express" on Zollstrasse next to the main station.

Elif is juggling so many plates at the same time that anyone else would have dropped one a long time ago. But Elif manages the feat with almost playful ease. She rolls out the dough for the vegacun – a vegan version of lahmacun – coats it in a paste made from grilled vegetables and slides it into the wood-fired oven. At the same time, she gives a colleague pointers on how to make the perfect cheese mixture for the blue cheese pide.

The Salçli Patates still need to be served up: the steamed and roasted potatoes lie atop a sauce made from fermented tomatoes and peppers. Then there's a cream made with thick cream yoghurt and labneh with a heap of fresh herbs. When asked if she is ever afraid of failure, she simply says: "No. Sometimes you just have to jump into the deep end. And I have nothing to lose." Then service begins, and everyone joins in again: "Merhaba!"

Text: Kathia Baltisberger, Photos: Pascal Grob

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