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Selin Kiazim

Like many chefs, Selin’s dream was always to have her own place, and she started to pursue that dream in 2013, leaving Kopapa and holding a host of supper clubs across London. ‘Keep an eye out for Selin Kiazim, because she is going places, in every conceivable way,’ said a prophetic Giles Coren after visiting her residency at Trip Kitchen in Haggerston. As Selin’s vision of modern Turkish food started to take shape, a cult following grew behind her, but she still needed a partner to help make her restaurant dream a reality. By chance, she met Laura Christie – then operations manager at Ember Yard – whilst doing a one-night takeover at the restaurant. ‘We had a long chat and we were just completely on the same page,’ says Selin. ‘It just made perfect sense.’

It took the pair a year to find a site – a smart little place on the corner of Luke Street and Phipp Street in Shoreditch – and just like that, Oklava was born. Right from the beginning, Selin’s influences were plain to see; her food is very clearly inspired by her Turkish Cypriot upbringing, but there’s a fearless streak to her cooking that comes from working with Peter. He imbues his chefs with a confidence that allows them to express themselves fully on the plate, and Selin certainly is not afraid to trust her instincts when it comes to bringing unusual flavours together.

If much of the country outside of London still wasn’t aware of what Selin was doing in East London, they soon would be; she appeared on Great British Menu in 2017 and rocketed into the final, where she turned around a disastrous dessert course to make the banquet. Her poached peach and raspberry jelly, Turkish panna cotta, peach and rosewater sorbet and a rosewater shard was a spectacular ending to the meal, and together with some superlative cooking throughout the series, it put her on the national map. ‘Great British Menu was probably the most stressful thing I've ever done!’ she laughs. ‘I’d watched every single series, so I knew the chefs that had been on the show and how it had transformed their careers. The pressure of then being there was immense, but I knew that if I could pull it off, it was going to change everything.’

With Oklava settled, Selin and Laura opened their second restaurant, Kyseri, in May 2018. Rather than taking inspiration from her upbringing in Cyprus, Kyseri takes on a more mainland Anatolian style (the restaurant is named after the city of Kayseri in central Turkey) and the menu includes a selection of Turkish pasta dishes, manti dumplings, larger modern Turkish sharing plates and air-dried cured beef pastirma. ‘We’ve always known we wanted more than one restaurant,’ says Selin. ‘At Oklava we just scratched the surface of what we can do – Turkey is a massive country with an amazing culinary scene to explore. I think a good starting point for inspiration as a chef is thinking about what you like to eat! The manti dumplings and the cured beef pastirma are two things I love, so we started there and built a menu up around that.’

Selin’s restaurants achieve that most delicate of balancing acts – they’re both innovative and exciting without abandoning the inspiration that gave birth to them. At Oklava for example, they still bake Selin’s grandmother’s traditional baharat bread every morning. Selin’s cooking has unquestionably made her the UK’s leading light for Turkish food, and with two successful restaurants now under her belt, her rise shows no sign of stopping. With any luck, she’ll leave just as powerful a legacy as her mentor.

Three things you need to know

Selin loved TV cookery shows growing up and she often appears on TV now; she has appeared on Saturday Kitchen and Great British Menu among others.

Selin is very outspoken when it comes to the need to improve mental health in kitchens, and she has always made staff happiness a priority in her restaurants.

The Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations in Britain named Selin the 'Best Champion of Turkish Cypriot Culture' in 2017.