It wasn’t always a life goal for Ilkay Suuctugu to be a chef, but once she stepped foot in the kitchen, there was no going back. Born and raised in Turkey, Suuctugu studied Culinary Science and Hospitality Management before moving to America to work as a Prep Cook for the Marriott Hutchinson Island Beach Resort, Golf & Marina. She barely knew English then, but by 2010, after a lot of hard work and talent in the kitchen, she had worked her way up to Banquet Chef, where she was executing large-scale events at that same property.
Fast-forward to 2019, when Suuctugu’s skill and determination led to her appointment as Sous Chef at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, as well as Sous Chef of Tropicale at The Miami Beach EDITION, and later, Executive Sous Chef of all The Miami Beach EDITION’s food and beverage outlets. In between, she assisted with the opening of The Bodrum EDITION (Turkey) and The Times Square EDITION (NYC), was named Global Chef of the Year 2018 for all Marriott International properties and was even selected to present as part of an Executive Tasting Panel for Marriott Chairman Bill Marriott and CEO Arne Sorenson.
Today, Suuctugu reigns as Executive Chef of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Matador Room. And while we still have her here in the Magic City, we sat down with the rising star—because a star is exactly what she is—to find out more about her life in the kitchen. Here’s what she had to say:
DO: “What inspired you to become a chef? Do you remember the moment you decided to make it a career?”
IS: “Becoming a chef was not my plan. However, when I landed in a kitchen, I felt at home and found my comfort zone. With each day that passed, my passion for cooking grew. It was then that I decided to pursue a career in the culinary world.”
“Coming from Turkey, what was the biggest challenge you faced in becoming a chef in the United States?”
“Being from a different background, the language barrier was the biggest challenge. Also, as a new cook, I had to learn different techniques and cooking methods I didn’t know before.”
“Do you have a favorite dish on the menu at Matador Room? If so, what is it?”
“My favorite dish on the menu is the Crispy Octopus with a toasted seed yogurt dressing. It reminds me of home!”
“What’s the one kitchen tool you can’t live without, and why?”
“My Chef’s Knife is one of my most precious kitchen tools, as each recipe requires a specific cut in order to be executed properly.”
“What is your absolute favorite thing about helming the kitchen at Matador Room?”
“It means so much to me to be able to inspire and motivate my team and share my knowledge with them. My hope is that, by working together, they all become better chefs.”
“What advice do you have for other female chefs trying to get where you are today?”
“I say this to any female chef: You should speak up and have your voice heard! Don’t be shy or compare yourself to others. Let people see who you truly are and what you are capable of. Although kitchens are mostly run by men, we as women shouldn’t be scared to show our skills, accomplish our goals, and be successful, too.”
By Jennifer Agress, a contributing writer