Chef Esat Levent Akyildiz, Director of Culinary, Le Royal Méridien Doha, on losing his kitchen fury and finding balance.

You started your culinary career at the young age of just 15, how could you be sure, so early, that this was the career for you?
My mum and I were together in the kitchen almost every day. I loved to eat what my mum was cooking and I helped her since childhood. I always felt comfortable in the kitchen and, after a couple of summers working in restaurants, I decided to get a proper culinary education. I actually started seriously at around 18 or 19 years old.

You’ve said that you see cooking as a way of life rather than a job. What do you mean by this and how do you promote your motto of ‘have fun at work’?
I have never seen my job as a regular nine-to-five, going by a schedule. I’ve worked early mornings and late nights, never checking the time. Or, if necessary, I work during the night. Once you don’t really check the time and forget yourself, what you are doing becomes your lifestyle, your permanent hobby rather than a profession. At the end of the day, we spend most of our time in the kitchen. Most chefs (real chefs, not those you see on TV) work under pressure, underground not seeing sunshine often. You have to cook and prep for a lot of people and it’s long hours. It’s actually a very serious job which needs a lot of focus and brings stress. For many years, I was like a devil in the kitchen, always angry, furious. One day, I realised that doesn’t help anybody, especially myself, and I changed to have a positive mindset. If we keep discipline, respect each other, the work we are doing will still will be done whether we are angry or happy at the end of the day.

Over the course of your career, you’ve had some amazing experiences from greeting 3,000 Eurovision Song Contest attendees and catering for dignitaries at the G20 Future Investment Initiative and OSCE summit to taking part in the 2016 Gourmet Ski Safari in the Italian Alps and cooking for UN Members at a gala dinner and business lunch. Is there one event that particularly stands out and do you have any funny stories to share?
One event I did was catering to an international military exercise with high protocol and royal families in attendance. It was in the middle of nowhere 600km away from hotel I used to work at, and we catered for more than 1,000 guests. We created all the kitchens and dining rooms from scratch, I enjoyed planning and leading that event a lot. Also, did you know we did the openings for most of the luxury stores in Place Vendôme Mall but at that time our hotel was not even opened yet? I had fun with the team doing all that organisation from scratch.

You are Director of Culinary at Le Royal Méridien Doha but also founder of the hotel’s Yed7 by Chef Esat, which showcases the cuisine of your native Türkiye. What would you consider your signature dish and what makes it popular?
As the Director of Culinary at Le Royal Méridien Doha and founder of Yedi by Chef Esat, I am thrilled to showcase the vibrant and flavourful cuisine of my native Türkiye. Our mezzes are always a crowd-pleaser, boasting unique recipes that capture the essence of Turkish flavours. But our signature dishes, from the indulgent LahMacun tartar to the savoury Yedi Kibbeh (pictured), the refreshing Levrek seabass, and the mouth-watering Manti and Lokal chicken, are true standouts. Each dish tells a captivating story, making them truly one-of-a-kind and unmatched even in Türkiye’s culinary scene. You won’t find these extraordinary dishes anywhere else, and we are excited to share them with our valued customers at Yedi.✤