Burak Ozcan knew he wanted to be a part of the culinary world at a very young age. Learning as much as he could in his hometown in Turkey, Chef Ozcan’s hard work and dedication led him to Texas where he has become one of the most talented chefs. Now residing at the Westin Dallas Park Central, Burak shares his passion for food by creating a unique dining experience with fresh ingredients and global flavors.
We had the privilege of speaking with Chef Ozcan about his journey to becoming an extraordinary chef, his advice for creating a new menu and trends that are making a positive impact in the foodservice industry.
TriMark R.W. Smith: Tell us about your culinary journey to becoming an extraordinary chef at Westin Dallas Park Central.
Chef Burak Ozcan: From watching my mother cook throughout my childhood and helping her at a young age in Zongudak, Turkey, I became fascinated with the kitchen. Before I reached the double digits in age, I began experiencing and preparing my own meals. By the time I was eleven years old, I would man the fire and barbeque during the school camping trips for my classmates. It was the suggestion of my teacher that inspired me to consider a culinary high school as opposed to other vocational programs.
I spent four years in North Turkey at Mengen Culinary School, eventually competing in the program’s student cooking competition. Placing second, I was invited to compete nationally in Istanbul where our team received a silver medal for the young chef category. I was soon offered a position at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski, one of the most luxurious hotels in Europe.
At Ciragan, I met guests from all over the world and was advised that it would be beneficial to gain experience in the United States. There I planned to learn hotel management and immerse myself in the English language and its diversity. After receiving job offers for positions across the globe, I decided to head to the friendliest state in America, Texas!
At the age of 21, I served as Stephen Pyle’s executive sous chef at Pyle’s Samar Restaurant in downtown Dallas, which was named one of the top 20 restaurants in the U.S. by Esquire Magazine that same year. Over the next four years, I did consulting work for establishments in Houston and Dallas while working closely with restaurateurs to develop their menus and assist with overall operations.
Eventually settling back in Dallas, I accepted the Executive Sous Chef position at the DFW Marriott South, where I quickly expanded its restaurant and banquet business. Continuing my career in the hotel industry, I was offered a position at The Renaissance Dallas Richardson Hotel where I was promoted to Executive Chef. I discovered a unique niche market by providing in house kosher catering plus other ethnic cuisines that were often outsourced. My mastery of global cuisines allowed for the property to grow its banquet business exponentially by tapping into these ethnic markets. I also specialized in hosting large sports teams, creating highly customized menus for each group.
My passion is to combine cultural flavors with fresh, local ingredients from across the state of Texas. I look forward to continuing my culinary adventures as Executive Chef at the Westin Park Central Hotel, by creating cuisine to wow alongside the newly renovated property.
RWS: In previous years, you’ve consulted several establishments in Houston and Dallas to help develop their menus and assist with operations. What are your top three pieces of advice for restaurants looking to create a new menu?
BO: Use local ingredients whenever possible to support local artisans and farmers
Understand the competition so that you can differentiate your offerings. Most restaurant menus feature pizza, sandwiches, or salads, so make yours stand out. Try tweaking a classic by adding a signature change that fits your restaurant’s brand.
Great food must be paired with great service. You can have the most amazing dishes in the world, but it will never make up for terrible service and poor customer experience. Remember that customers have many dining options to choose from and you want to ensure they feel comfortable and respected while dining with you.
RWS: Westin Dallas Park Central’s Urban South has an exceptional selection of dining options from breakfast to dinner. What are the three dishes that have become a must-have for guests to taste?
BO: Here are three dishes that have become must haves for guests:
- Crabby Benedict Served with Guajilo Hollandaise
- Gulf Coast Red Fish with Pan Seared Truffle Grits Cake, Swiss Chard, Lemon Butter Sauce
- Guava Chicken with Sweet Potato Soufflé, Grilled Asparagus with Flax Seed and Shallots Guava Sauce
RWS: What favorite kitchen tool can you not do without and why?
BO: The Vitamix Prep Blender is definitely my favorite tool. It gives the perfect texture for making smoothies, salad dressings, spice mixes, vegetable purees, soups and many more!
RWS: What changes and trends in restaurant dining do you feel have the most positive impact on the foodservice industry?
BO: Social Media is having a large impact on the industry. For example, any restaurant serving quality food paired with excellent service will turn profitable a lot faster with the help of social media. A customer sharing a photo of a delicious meal or checking into the restaurant online is a great way to spread the word and grow clientele near and far. However, it is important to remember that a bad experience can also be shared through social media much quicker than it can circulate through a community by word of mouth. Social media allows for greater transparency in our industry so we must provide consistent quality and service.
RWS: While you make many meals and memorable moments for others, we are interested in hearing about one of your best dining experiences and what made it so special.
BO: I have had many great dining experiences over the years, but the best one was when my fiancée and I traveled to my home country of Turkey. We were near the Mediterranean Sea in the city of Datça. We enjoyed about 10 different mezes (appetizers), salads, fresh Branzino, octopus, calamari, shrimp, salad, fish stew, with fresh bread and traditional desserts. We finished the meal with Datça’s signature Almond Coffee that was rich and smooth. The meal lasted over five hours and we enjoyed it right on the beach.
More from TriMark R.W. Smith