Cafe Ostro's A.K. Demirhat prepares award-winning Mediterranean food in Dalton, Georgia

A.K. Demirhat fondly remembers growing up in Ankara, Turkey, surrounded by a family of good cooks.

"In Turkey, we generally prefer to eat sit-down meals," he says. "It's rare for us to snack throughout the day or eat on the go, and it's also unusual to have potluck meals whereby every person invited to dinner brings their own dish to share.

"And one of my mother's rules was that we would eat together at the same time as a family every day. My mother's cooking is so delicious, we often had visitors - relatives, friends and neighbors - join us at our meals. While my mother cooked the main entrée food, my father was helping her to make side dishes."

It's this same love of cooking that he brings to the table at his restaurant, Cafe Ostro, in Dalton, Georgia, serving foods from his Mediterranean homeland and around the Middle East. The cafe opened in 2018 and was recently honored by the Georgia Business Journal as having the best Mediterranean food in North Georgia in its Best of Georgia awards.

About Cafe Ostro

— Address: 240 N. Hamilton St., Dalton, Ga.— Specialty: Mediterranean food made from scratch— Entree price range: $10-$16— Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday— Phone: 706-529-7538— Online:

(READ MORE: Cafe Ostro is Best of Georgia's top Mediterranean restaurant)

Q: What's your earliest cooking memory?

A: During high school, my parents were both working long hours, so I started cooking for my brother and myself. The first thing I remember making was a pasta dish.

Q: Who had the biggest influence on your decision to become a chef?

A: My mother, for sure.

Q: Do you think Mediterranean food has become more mainstream in America?

A: As of now, yes, because the Mediterranean diet is a combination of essential foods. In the last five years, the Mediterranean diet has been chosen as the best diet in all of the world.

Q: Do you have people who come in and have never tried foods from the Middle East before?

A: Shawarma is the item most people have never tried before. It's a dish with rotisserie slow-cooked chicken or beef and lamb combined with authentic spices. There's a man named Jeremy who, after he tried it for the first time, described it as "a great blend of spices, and the chicken is very flavorful."

Q: What's your favorite thing on the menu?

A: The Spicy Cheese Steak Sandwich. It has spicy beef served on bolillo bread (a crusty, football-shaped French bread) with fresh jalapeno peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, mozzarella and our spicy Ostro garlic sauce.

Q: Why did you decide to open a restaurant in Dalton?

A: As Dalton is growing, it was great to add something different.

Q: What does "Ostro" mean?

A: Ostro is the name of a wind on the Mediterranean Sea that blows from north to south.

Q: What was your reaction to finding out you had been voted as having the best Mediterranean food in North Georgia?

A: I was very excited and happy. My team and I work very hard, so to get the award was very meaningful.

Q: What's one thing people may not know about you?

A: For my last meal I would like to have Chicken Shawarma topped with light Ostro sauce.

Q: Who are the three other people at your table for your dream dinner?

A: Cristiano Ronaldo (professional soccer player), chef Gordon Ramsey and actor Morgan Freeman.

Q: Do you have a favorite cookbook or website you're liking these days?

A: I've never had a cookbook. I'm a big fan of Gordon Ramsay and follow his shows and recipes. Also I pay attention to the Food Network and some websites about herbs and superfoods.

Q: If you hadn't become a chef, what would you have done?

A: I'd be a soccer player.

Q: What's the one piece of kitchen equipment that's most important to you?

A: My small kitchen knife.

Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?

A: A big slice of chocolate cake.

Q: What's one of your favorite recipes to make at home?

A: Bulgar pilaf. I learned how to cook this dish when I was a teenager and still cook and enjoy it all the time. I love its taste and the health benefits of bulgar.

Bulgar Pilaf

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 medium tomato, diced

1 cup bulgar (not fine)

2 cups boiled water

1 teaspoon salt

Crushed red pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons butter

Add the olive oil to a nonstick pot. Add the chopped onion and chopped bell peppers, and cook 5-8 minutes on medium heat.

Add diced tomato and cook 5-8 minutes until the tomato juices are absorbed. Add bulgar and boiled water, salt, crushed red pepper and butter.

Mix all the ingredients until well combined, and simmer until water is absorbed. If bulgar is not cooked enough, add 2-3 tablespoons of boiling water and cook another minute.

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