Photo by Adriana Grant
Sedat Uysal is the owner of Café Paloma, the fantastic Mediterranean café in Pioneer Square that he founded in 1998. This is the first of a three-part interview that will explore Uysal's background, and his culinary inspirations; part three will conclude with a recipe. Our interview began with Uysal explaining how he got to where he is now.
Photo by Adriana Grant
SW: So, tell me a little bit about your background. Uysal
Uysal: I came to Seattle twenty-five years ago, as a young journalist, from Turkey. There was nothing to do in Turkey when I finished school. There were no newspapers. There were no newspapers that would hire me then; no newspapers that I would work for. I wanted to be a more politically inclined journalist, but I did not want to write just what they told me. Censorship was very heavy then, in the early '80s.
So I came to visit my uncle, who lives here. I opened a coffee stand in Bellevue in the late 80s. (I came in '85, the beginning of '85.) I opened one of the few coffee stands. Espresso was very new, espresso was very hot then. It was a cart named Bonjourno Espresso in front of the QFC in the Lake Hills shopping center in Bellevue. I keep that for seven years, and in the meantime I opened a deli/café with a partner, called Meze, in Kirkland. It's still there. It means appetizers in Turkish. Meze I opened in 1993 and left in 1996. I left the partnership; I didn't want to be on the Eastside, I didn't want to be in that setting. I learned a lot from that experience and I took one year off, I said I will never do restaurants again. Crazy. One year I just traveled around. I went back to Turkey for three months. I was thinking to go back to Turkey, but I have a beautiful life here, I cannot go.
One day I parked my car across the street. I went to see a girlfriend on Bainbridge and I came back in the morning and this space was available. (It was half back then, just counter seating.) So I said, I should do this. I should open a place, called Paloma. That represents peace, dove. There was a whole idea; I didn't want to be a Turkish restaurant around the block. I didn't want to define myself that way. But now, I call it Mediterranean with a Turkish accent. And the food is great. You should mention my chef, Ferah, she has been with us for eight years.
What are your culinary inspirations?
Hunger. Tasting new things, and going to other restaurants and seeing what they are doing, and discovering new ingredients, smells. Mostly seeing what other people are doing, actually. It's a pretty challenging business that we're in; you have to turn around and make something new. Routine kills me. When I first opened the restaurant I was doing all of the cooking, pretty much. Right now, I only do evenings.
Is there an ingredient or dish that you're particularly into these days?
Chicken bohça is spectacular. Chicken sautéed with leeks and mixed with walnuts, currants, pear. And we wrap them in phyllo dough and we bake them for a short time until they are nice and crisp. And we drizzle some pomegranate molasses. People love it. And some fresh dill. That's one of my favorite dishes right now at the café.
What was your favorite food when you were a kid?
Kofte. Gound beef meatballs. We have those on the menu too. My Mom used to make that, of course. Everybody's teacher is mom, right? She was a great cook. She was a great inspiration. I would call her from here, and get some recipes from her. She passed away in 1995, but when I first opened Meze in 1993, I would call her and say, 'How did you make yogurt?' I would make my own yogurt. (Now it is cheap, we don't have to.) I cooked growing up, always. We were three brothers, we didn't have any girls. Most of the girls helped their moms, but we all helped our mom. We all love to cook, actually, my two other brothers.
Check back tomorrow for more of our conversation with Sedat, including what's new at Café Paloma, and his picks for $5 and $100 meals.