Defne Koryürek might just be the world’s most glamorous butcher-shop owner. It’s a sunny Saturday in Istanbul, and the 40-year-old defne—in a chic minidress by Machka, one of her favorite Turkish designers—is giving me a tour of Dükkan, the butcher shop she runs with her business partner, Emre Mermer. Since it opened four years ago, Dükkan has become the local go-to source for dry-aged steaks. It also supplies veal and sausage to many of the city’s most prestigious restaurants, including the one at the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet and the trendy Ulus 29 and Kantin. Dükkan’s meat is also the focus at Dükkan steak house, which Defne and Emre opened last fall two storefronts away from the butcher shop.
Defne has lots of other projects at the moment—in addition to the butcher shop and steak house, she also writes a food blog and heads up Istanbul’s Slow Food chapter—but she has been pushing Turkish cuisine forward for more than a decade. She spent three years in the 1990s as a caterer in New York City, where she delivered Mediterranean comfort food like beef-and-lamb köfte to homesick expats and created recipes like one she named Eggs alla Kortun, poached eggs on toasted bread with sizzling feta and olives. When Defne returned to Istanbul, she opened a restaurant called Refika in the gritty (but now gentrified) neighborhood of Tunel. There, she used fresh ingredients for Turkish dishes like a warm lentil salad with roasted red peppers and garlicky sausages.
“I still remember the first meal I had at Refika: a chicken stew with pears,” says Semsa Denizsel, the chef at Kantin. “It was very clear that Defne was doing something new and different. At the time in Istanbul, there was the food you ate at home and the food you had in restaurants, which was often European, rarely Turkish. Defne’s food was delicate and refined, but at heart, it was good Turkish home cooking.” Refika (which is now closed) sparked a sort of Alice Waters–esque movement toward using the very best ingredients to elevate simple Turkish dishes. As a result, many local chefs consider Defne a mentor and mother figure.