Coskun Uysal, chef and co-owner of award-winning restaurant Tulum in Balaclava has – like everyone in hospitality – had to question the intention and purpose of his business. It was bloody hard. He contemplated, and came up with a solution that’s working for him and his team, for now. But he does have plans to take Tulum back to its original focus when life and restrictions allow.
Despite some health issues and a couple of days in hospital, we checked in to see how he’s recovering. It’s all good, he’s readying himself for a positive future.
1. What have been the biggest challenge for your business in adapting again in the second lockdown?
I’m very passionate about my culture and cuisine and I love my guests.
So when the pandemic hit and I had to close the restaurant I knew we had to do simple, delicious takeaway Turkish food.
From day one, we have been serving a Tulum @ Home menu.
People love it, regulars keep ordering, but I really wasn’t happy. For me, takeaway can be a little soulless.
You work all day prepping the dishes but then all you do is box everything up and send it out to their destinations. So at times, I’ve felt a little depressed.
At Tulum, I have an open kitchen and I love seeing people enjoying their food.
But takeaway removes that precious human contact, and I was a little upset by that. At the end of the day, I have a business, and I have to do takeaway both for my guests and to support the student visa holders who have worked with us from the very beginning.
So, after a while I decided to do try an Istanbul Street Food concept.
Now, I serve dishes straight from our window on Carlisle Street in Balaclava. I still cook to-order but I don’t do take-away for the street food. So, I’m happy once again. I’ve got my mojo back, especially when I see people outside my restaurant, ordering the street food and often eating it right outside Tulum.
2. What have you learned about yourself during this time?
When I opened Tulum, my big motto was “No Kebabs and No Dips” and since day one, our menus have never included them. But I should have remembered: you “never say never”, because at the moment we sell lots of kebabs and dips!
Since the beginning of the pandemic I have learned to be less romantic, more realistic and I relaxed my own rule!
But, once we reopen, and I hope that’s as soon as possible, it will be back to showcasing the best in modern Turkish cuisine.
3. How are you, your family and your team?
A couple of weeks ago, I had some very bad abdominal pains which I kept on ignoring. But one Sunday, I was feeling so bad and crying from the pain that my partner, Peter, insisted on going straight to the Emergency Room at The Alfred Hospital.
After blood and urine tests and an ultrasound, I was diagnosed with an infected gall bladder. So I had keyhole surgery the next day to remove it, and I was treated wonderfully by The Alfred’s doctors and nurses. Now, after two days in hospital, I’m home, taking it easy and Peter has been thoroughly spoiling me and keeping my morale up.
I am lucky enough to have a great team at Tulum. My manager, Baris and my sous chef, Kazim, keep sending me messages of support, assuring me that everything is under control at the restaurant. My business partner, Kemal, has been calming me down, and his mum keeps sending me delicious soups: the nearest thing to Turkish Penicillin!