A native of Turkey, Nurdan Erdem is the head chef and owner of Enfes NYC and the chef for our Turkey box. Enfes, which means “delicious” in Turkish, embraces Turkish street food tradition by serving gözleme—a savory flatbread affectionately referred to as a “Turkish burrito”—in a series of pop-ups across the city. Nurdan’s warmth and joyful personality shine through in her homey, delicious creations.
TTW: Please introduce yourself.
NE: My name is Nurdan Erdem and I am the owner of Enfes NYC. I’ve been in the country for 15 years, and I’ve been running my own business for 10 years.
TTW: How did you get started and where did you learn to cook?
NE: I learned how to cook from my family. I was not very good when I was younger, I believe, but later on I started to do a lot more. I already knew a lot of techniques from observing my mom and my grandma, and I think when I was older it was just my time to learn to do something on my own and enjoy it. When you enjoy, you actually learn.
TTW: What made you decide this type of food was what you wanted to bring to the US?
NE: I wanted to find a unique product to sell that was not already available in NYC. I found that gözleme [a traditional savory Turkish flatbread, hand-rolled with various fillings and grilled] was only sold in cold containers in deli sections, and it only had one type of ingredient in it. So I thought, I’ll make it fresh. I started making it this way, with the customize-it-yourself possibilities. I am the only company in NY, possibly in the country, making gözleme this way, like a Turkish burrito.
TTW: Gözleme is a Turkish street food tradition, right?
NE: Yes, but actually, in Turkey, we don’t have these combinations. I created them here. I consider myself a very creative person. I’m thinking all the time about what people’s reactions will be. I work at my pop-ups all the time in order to observe and listen to what people need to come up with something. Every year, I’ll add something new to my concept. I’m always trying to make my menu better. Probably two years from now, my menu will be very different. I don’t stick to the same path.
TTW: What’s your favorite ingredient to work with?
NE: I love mushrooms. I work with mushrooms all the time. It’s kind of a dangerous selection because people either love mushrooms or hate mushrooms. I also like adding fresh parsley and onion to dishes. It gives you a great taste and texture for the food, whether you are preparing for vegetarians, vegans, or meat lovers.
TTW: When you first came here, were you also working in the restaurant industry?
NE: Yes, I was working with a Turkish company that does fast food. I also worked in a Turkish restaurant and in French cuisine. In Turkey, I was working in a record company. It was one of the biggest record companies in Turkey and I was managing it.
TTW: What did you grow up eating for breakfast and lunch?
NE: For breakfast, Turkish people usually eat a lot of cheese, but I am allergic. So I mostly had egg, tomato, cucumber with olive oil, and some toasted bread with butter on top. For lunch, I mostly had something with vegetables, like okra or stewed beans mixed with lamb. For dinner, I would prefer chicken or lamb – I like lamb more than chicken.
TTW: What are some of your favorite Turkish foods?
NE: I love kumpir. I like food besides kebabs. Homemade style food, like eggplant, lamb, and peppers stuffed with meat and rice.
TW: What is your favorite food besides Turkish food?
NE: Sushi! Definitely not the cucumber things, I like it with salmon. Not tuna, salmon. I like all seafood actually, but sushi is super great. I’m a seafood person. Fried, grilled, baked, it doesn’t matter. I can eat everything coming from the ocean or sea. There’s a lot of seafood in Turkish cuisine, too.
TTW: Okay, it’s your last meal on Earth. What city are you eating in?
I really want to go to Italy and try lots of food there, so probably Rome. I’ve never been but I’ve researched it. A lot of friends have gone and told me about their experiences. I really want to go and have the most delicious pasta in the world. Not pizza; pasta.
TTW: Do you eat often because your pop-ups and brick and mortar location keep you so busy?
NE: I have no time. Actually, I have to skip all meals, I have no time to sit and eat and enjoy. I only eating when I’m driving. Seriously.
Once in awhile, I eat out, and sit and relax with my friends. Because we chefs work in a restaurant, it doesn’t mean we sit and eat a lot of things. It’s the opposite, not just for me but for everyone in the restaurant industry, I think.
TTW: Last question: what are three words that best describe your cooking style?
NE: I’d have to say, non-canned, healthy, and delicious.
Chef Nurdan Erdem has a brick and mortar store in Rego Park, Queens, NY. She is planning to open another in Manhattan by 2018. She has both year round and seasonal pop-ups in NYC and New Jersey. To learn more about where to find her delicious creations, visit www.enfes.nyc.
*This interview was edited for length and clarity.