All the men in my family were butchers, in Turkey it’s a hereditary job. And I had a passion for meat from an early age. I was 7 or 8 when my father took me to work. And as soon as I saw this giant space, these big meat carcasses, those men who were butchering them — of course, I wanted to do the same. I asked my father to give me a knife so that I could also dress meat. He wouldn’t allow it, of course, but I didn’t listen to him — snatched a knife and took it to the nearest carcass. So, you could say that I fell in love with meat at a tender age.

With time, I discovered that tasting the meat as no less interesting than dressing it — it’s so beautiful, so marbled. I began to cook meat and really got into it. When I was 11 or 12, I dropped out of school and went to work in a restaurant kitchen.

I have worked at different establishments with traditional cuisine, learned from the great chefs — the really old, seasoned Turkish meat practitioners such as Cuneyt Asan at Günaydın whom I consider my true mentor. Many of Asan’s students later became prominent chefs, Instagram stars, such as Nusret Gökçe. We had worked together at the same restaurant for several years: Nusret was prepping meat, and I was a cook.

And so, my career was progressing, I was working at cool restaurants in Istanbul, creating menus, training kitchen staff. And then these two restaurateurs from Russia come to me. Nodar and Vladimir needed the best meat chef who would open a new project in St. Petersburg with them. I have never been to Russia before that and knew little about the country, but a few years prior I did a project in Belarus. So, I thought to myself, Russia and Belarus are close by, I can sort of imagine what I will see there, and the project is very interesting. So, I agreed.

Of course, once I got here, everything was not how I imagined. The first six months in Russia I was searching for high quality marbled meat. I went to all the Russian meat plants, looking at carcasses, looking at cuts, watching them make the cuts, watching people at work. I had to travel far and wide, I went to Dagestan, to Georgia, even to Murmansk. And I came to Russia in the winter — the roads are covered with snow, the traffic is unfamiliar, the language is different. Later I got used to it all, but at first it was hard. You could find meat almost anywhere, but there wasn’t much of it. But I’m an expert, and I refused to give up. I found meat with the right quality and told Nodar and Vladimir: “Guys, there is good meat in Russia, we can start working.”

That’s how we opened the first Meat Coin restaurant in St. Petersburg, at Rubinstein Street. It’s still open and gathers crowds. But Nodar and Vladimir told me from the very beginning that they want to create several projects, that St. Petersburg is just the start. And we began to search for a venue in Moscow as soon as we opened in St. Petersburg. But that was a difficult time, the pandemic. So, it took us several years to launch Meat Coin in Moscow. Truth be told, we are not limiting ourselves to Russia, we want to open our restaurants around the world. In Dubai, in London, maybe, with time, in America. When the time is right, we’ll definitely do it.

Guide restaurants with Mehmet Çalışkan participation