(Credit: Marriott International)

A Taste of Good Travel

Chef Hüseyin Acar Takes Aegean Cuisine to the Next Level in Bodrum

The famously heart-healthy (yet devilishly delicious) Mediterranean diet may just reach its zenith in the Aegean, a subsection of the region that bridges Greece and Turkey. Both countries’ shores, as well as their many islands, are renowned for olive-oil drenched dishes and produce what are considered to be the finest examples of both countries’ cuisines.

(Credit: Marriott International)
(Credit: Marriott International)

In Turkey, the Aegean Sea is known as “Ege denizi” and stretches from Gallipoli in the north to Marmaris in the south.

Near the southern end, the peninsula of Bodrum is deservedly known as the St-Tropez of Turkey, attracting high-end travelers from around the world with its historic, geographic, cultural — and culinary — riches.

Blanketed in gray-green olive groves and tangy-scented satsuma orchards, Bodrum is also known for its fresh fruits, vegetables and fish, as well as wild herbs, many of which are known to have healing and digestive properties.

“We regularly feature Aegean herbs and artichokes,” says Executive Chef Hüseyin Acar of Glass Restaurant and Bar at Caresse, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Bodrum.

“When it comes to local seafood, Bodrum is best known for its sole, which we serve year-round, either grilled or stewed. You can also find grouper and sea bass in these waters.”

Chef Acar works with a fisherman in Türkbükü who provides the restaurant with line-caught squid and shrimp and also sources fish from other parts of the Aegean, like Çeşme and Marmaris.

“Aegean cuisine is extremely healthy,” explains the 41-year-old chef. “In the entire Turkish Mediterranean, olive oil is used most heavily here, as are wild herbs such as şevketibostan [milk thistle] and radika [chicory].”

Chef Acar was born and bred in Mengen, a small town in northern Anatolia that produces a disproportionate number of stellar chefs.

Indeed, in Ottoman times, almost all the sultans’ chefs came from Mengen, starting from the time of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.


Culinary inspiration is in his blood

In fact, both of Chef Acar’s grandfathers were self-taught chefs who started their apprenticeships after receiving only a primary school education and went on to work in various hotels and restaurants in Istanbul.

(Credit: Marriott International)
(Credit: Marriott International)

Chef Acar was inspired by the stories of similar chefs from his village who went on to become highly successful in renowned eateries.

In middle and high school, he attended the prestigious Mengen Aşçılar Okulu, famous for churning out the country’s top chefs, where he was schooled in traditional Turkish cuisine. He went on to study gastronomy at Abant İzzet Baysal University.

After working at a range of upmarket hotels and restaurants in Istanbul, Chef Acar moved to Bodrum in 2009, working as executive chef at a number of prestigious hotels in the region before joining Caresse when it opened in 2015.

“The Luxury Collection has a mission to promote local values,” says Chef Acar.

When asked to describe the menu at Glass, Chef Acar laughingly sings a famous Turkish pop song, entitled “Bodrum, Bodrum,” a paean to the city.

The most classic Bodrum dish on his menu is a kind of local kebab called çökertme: julienne-sliced beef tenderloin served on a bed of matchstick-thin crispy potatoes. While other establishments serve it with yogurt made from cow’s milk, Glass stands out by dropping a thick dollop of water buffalo yogurt on top.

Also on the menu is a variety of wild asparagus known as tilkişen glazed in Aegean olive oil, as well as local kuzu göbeği, or morel mushrooms. Bodrum’s famous satsumas also feature in some cocktails at the Glass bar.

Every meal begins with the words afiyet olsun, meaning ‘may it be a feast.’

Most of the fruits and vegetables used in the kitchen are local, but Chef Acar sources his meats from verdant Balıkesir, which straddles Turkey’s Aegean and Marmara regions and is known for producing the best meat in Turkey — particularly its succulent, thyme-fed lamb. “Sometimes we even go to Balıkesir ourselves and choose the livestock in person to guarantee the best quality,” says Acar.

When preparing the menu for Glass, Chef Acar says that he was most inspired by his setting and his guests’ expectations. But he also draws on his own experience with Aegean, Mediterranean and international cuisines.

Chef Acar has often collaborated with Italian chef Carlo Bernardini, whom he calls his idol. And at Glass, Acar has included a number of Italian-inspired dishes, including fresh pastas and pizza, that feature local ingredients such as Aegean herbs, asparagus and prawns.

Never content with innovating, Chef Acar reinvents the menu at Glass annually, but Aegean ingredients and flavors always maintain pride of place. In the near future, he hopes to add tasting menus with wine pairings.

In Turkey, every meal begins with the words afiyet olsun, meaning “may it be a feast”; at Glass, Chef Acar guarantees to provide you with a feast of Aegean flavors to match the restaurant’s matchless Aegean view.