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Aret Sahakyan: The Pioneer of Bodrum’s Culinary Boom

Aret Sahakyan: The Pioneer of Bodrum’s Culinary Boom

After years of mentoring some of Turkey’s top chefs, veteran Aret Sahakyan finally received a Michelin star of his own. This is a story of dedication and love for cooking.

Aret Sahakyan is the chef responsible for the entire culinary world of one of the coolest luxury resorts in the world: Maçakizi Hotel in Bodrum. There, he has proved that it’s never too late to dream big as his restaurant became the first one to earn a Michelin star in the Bodrum-region. For him this is just the beginning of a new era, full of excitement and flavor.

Turkish Chefs Aret Sahakyan and Maksut Askar at one of the culinary events in Maçakizi Hotel in Bodrum. Photo courtesy of Maçakizi.

Good things come to those who wait. But also for those who are consistent, loyal, work hard, and dream big. That’s the case of veteran Turkish chef Aret Sahakyan, who after working with the same team for thirty-five years recently became a Michelin chef. The arrival of the famous red guide to Bodrum had everyone in Turkey talking about it: the guy who was a mentor to some of today’s most successful chefs in Istanbul like Maksut Askar or Fatih Tutak will finally be recognized.

And it happened.

Gwendal Poullennec, International Director of the Michelin Guide explained: “Bodrum offers an interesting gastronomic complementarity to Istanbul and Izmir: upscale and international spots flourish on the coast, while the downtown area features small, independent restaurants that are particularly picturesque and affordable.”

The restaurant at Maçakizi is one of the international restaurants redefining fine dining in the St Tropez of Turkey, and it all started almost four decades ago when Aret met the owner of the hotel, Sahir Erozan.

Together, and while celebrating the achievement of last year, they plan big things for 2024 that promises to turn Maçakizi into an even brighter culinary destination for the bon vivants of the world. Always humble, and always in the back kitchens of an immense resort, Aret Sahakyan now faces a new era of his career.

One of the best ways to go to Maçakizi is with a seaplane. When guests do that, this is their entrance into this magic hotel. Photo courtesy of Maçakizi.


The sunset view from one of the terraces at Maçakizi restaurant, part of the Maçakizi Hotel in Bodrum, Turkey. Photo courtesy of Maçakizi.

From School to Kitchen

Aret’s interest in food started when he was a child, and he comes from a family that appreciates food – one that made a big deal out of the ritual of cooking and he had an uncle who was a chef.

but none of those things made him go to culinary school, and in his case, his adventures in the professional kitchen didn’t begin until after college. 

“I moved to America to go to college and study business administration. There, I used to cook dinners for friends but it didn’t become an actual job until I got engaged. My fiancé at the time was from an American-Italian family and her parents owned an Italian restaurant in Washington D.C. That was my first time ever working in a kitchen back when I was twenty five years old. I never stopped cooking after that.” explains the chef.

This first taste of the restaurant world left him wanting more and his college friend Sahir Erozan had the perfect opportunity for him. Sahir owned a restaurant called Cities, where Aret got his first job as a sous chef. He then continued in different top restaurants in D.C. like I Riqui from chef Francesco Riqui, where most of his Italian training comes from.

Aret also worked with Jean-Louis Palladin, who introduced the French nouvelle cuisine to the Washington elite and to a new generation of local and foreign chefs at his restaurant Jean-Louis at the Watergate hotel. After working there for a year and a half, the young chef came back to work at Cities with Sahir, with whom he still works to this day at the Maçakizi Hotel in Bodrum.

Above: Nature is a big part of the Maçakizi experience and is intertwined with every single area. Below: The relaxed luxury of the social areas at Maçakizi Hotel in Bodrum. Photo courtesy of Maçakizi.

Ayla’s Playground

Some decades before Aret and Sahir were succeeding in America, Sahir’s mother, Ayla Emiroglu first set foot in Bodrum, Turkey. It was 1977, and the landscape was humble, dotted with simple dwellings, scattered cars, and stray cats. Adorned with fragrant orange and lime trees, it exuded an ancient beauty—a subtle decadence where the brilliance of the sun melded seamlessly with the boundless azure of sea and sky. For her it meant freedom and through her hard work, captivating personality and magnetic charisma, she helped transform the coast into a luxurious and free-spirited playground for the elite, becoming a Turkish hospitality legend: the “Queen of Spades”.

What began as a modest guesthouse in downtown Bodrum blossomed into a revered bastion of relaxed opulence in the heart of the Mediterranean. Alya Emiroglu created an ambiance that attracted intellectuals and artists like Ahmet Ertegün, Mick Jagger, and Nureyev. Food was of course a big part of the charm of the very secluded guest house. Ayla served very authentic and unpretentious local cuisine, done with love and with the goal to make guests enjoy. It became such an alluring experience, that guests would come even then, at a location that was only accessible by boat. 

In the 90s, Ayla’s son Sahir Erozan came back to Turkey and rekindled his love affair with the peninsula, ultimately joining forces with his mother. He was a trailblazer, crafting his own narrative of success in Washington D.C. A successful restaurateur and club owner in the U.S. capital, who ended up closing his projects and bringing all his experience to a then very different Bodrum. Their collaboration first blossomed with the creation of a beach club project in Gölkoy, followed by the transformation of what we now know as the Maçakizi Resort in Türkbükü in 1999. It was then when chef Aret Sahakyan also left America, moved to Bodrum and began working on the project that would take him to the stars.

Above: “Queen of Spades” Ayla Emiroglu hosting guests in Bodrum.  Below: Ayla Emiroglu and her son Sahir Erozan, now owner of Maçakizi Hotel. Photo courtesy of Maçakizi.

The New Maçakizi

After a big construction and renovation in 99, Erozan managed to seamlessly combine his mother’s authentic, rustic charm with his own vision of modern luxury. Rooms were revamped to cater to the evolving tastes of a new generation of travelers. Art became an even bigger factor of the Maçakizi world, and of course, the kitchen and the culinary offer underwent a makeover, drawing inspiration from Erozan’s and Aret’s global escapades and from the chef’s intensive Mediterranean and Italian training. 

Aret’s life was completely concentrated in Turkey at this point. During the high summer seasons at Maçakizi, he handled all food related matters, from the restaurants to the famous Mediterranean breakfast buffets, the events and room service. At the same time, in 2006 and for three years he combined that with another joint project he shared with Sahir in Istanbul. Tuus restaurant was his winter endeavor in the capital and was a success until the dynamic duo decided to put all their strength and focus solely into Bodrum. That turned into a major kitchen renovation in 2008 and the construction of the timeless and very cool indoor restaurant that now holds a shiny Michelin star.

Despite numerous adaptations to stay abreast of the times, one fundamental aspect remained unchanged: the bohemian-chic ethos that Ayla Emiroglu had instilled from the beginning. Maçakizi was and is a haven where celebrities lounge in the sun without commotion, where personalised service makes each guest feel like family, and where warm conversations between regular guests and the owner over cigars at the bar are the norm. This ambiance proved to be the secret sauce, cultivating a loyal following from across the globe who maintain Maçakizi as their beloved and secret summer retreat—a tradition to be cherished year after year.

The sunset view from one of the terraces at Maçakizi restaurant, part of the Maçakizi Hotel in Bodrum, Turkey. Photo courtesy of Maçakizi.


A part of the dining room at Maçakizi restaurant in Bodrum. Photo courtesy of Maçakizi.

The Food

The food and beverage program at Maçakizi has always been a major part of the project and a big success with guests. In 2000, when they started, there weren’t many luxury hotels and restaurants in Bodrum as there are today. Aret’s years of experience added to the winning recipe and throughout the year he has mixed his love for Italian and Mediterranean cuisine with local ingredients and flavours to create his signature and very personal style. Flavorful, unpretentious, familiar with a humble use of technique. The food at Maçakizi is real.

“When we opened there was no high end cooking in Bodrum. The city was known for good but very simple cooking. We have great products and seafood and of course Turkish food culture is one of traditional delicious flavors, but I can humbly say that we came into the scene and elevated that. Our new twist with which we combined all that with my training background in Italian, French and Spanish cooking was very well received by hotel guests and locals and the word quickly spread out about the food at Maçakizi.” tells Aret.

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Many luxury hotels in Bodrum are not necessarily famous for their food. Some are all about the beach, others about the atmosphere, others about the spa, but Maçakizi combines all that with great food in every single moment of the day. The mornings are legendary and a continuation of the very over the top buffets that Ayla used to do in her guest house decades ago. Picture a breathtaking view while you enjoy a range of cheeses, olives, jams, fresh vegetables, bread baked in house that just came out of the oven, and small platters of cured meats, salads and delicious egg dishes. 

The lunch time combines what you would expect from a sunny summer day on the coast of Turkey, with some Italian charm and Aegean flair. The grills light up to bring flavor to all sorts of seafood. A big grouper, a sea bass or a local spiny lobster served with an array of salads and vegetables is always a good option. Eggplants are also a staple of their lunch menus, done in different ways. And the pastas are also a big must, whether you lean towards the more Italian options or for the traditional manti. Like those two examples, every single moment at the hotel is accompanied by great food, but the main event is dinner.

Aret Sahakyan is known for his super fresh seafood dishes in Maçakizi Hotel in Bodrum. Photo courtesy of Maçakizi.

The Evolution Of Turkish Chefs

“I don’t see myself as a hotel chef, I’m a restaurant chef and receiving the Michelin star was very special for us in that sense. Maçakizi functions as a restaurant and when guests come they come to eat my food, not just food. There’s a vision, a personal style and flavor to it. Many years ago when I started, this was not very common in Turkey as it has always been a country that adores traditional food, but I can say that we are changing that and that the culinary level of the country is higher and higher every year. We were pioneers in that type of culinary offering in the country and after 24 years having served as a school for hundreds of young chefs who ended up becoming top names in Turkey, I’m happy to have contributed in that way explains Aret when I ask him about his thoughts on winning his first Michelin star after so many years.

Aret’s cooking is the final garnish to the entire laid-back luxury experience at Maçakizi. What else can come out of mixing elements from some of the most ancient food cultures in the world with some techniques and flavors from Europe. Turkish, Aegean, Italian. It all becomes what the chef calls his new Mediterranean cuisine. Dishes like the artichoke carpaccio are extremely popular amongst guests. It is lightly cooked and sliced, then topped with fresh leaves and a tangy lemon vinaigrette. Another one, and one that also represents the mix of cultures perfectly, is a homemade angel hair egg pasta with a lemon confit, garlic and chilli peppers sauce, topped with a tartar of local shrimp.

One of his favorite dishes is the grilled tenderloin. They find a local beef that comes from the north of Bodrum and grill it. Then finish it with a tarragon butter sauce and local morel mushrooms that are in season in the beginning of the summer. When the season changes, they change the type of mushroom and keep serving the dish. “I really can’t take it off the menu. People love it and I do too.” tells Aret. For a sweet touch, his pavlova with strawberries, yogurt ice cream and foam and rose strawberry jus is a big hit.

Aret Sahakyan in action at his Michelin-starred restaurant in Maçakizi Hotel in Bodrum. Photo courtesy of Maçakizi.


Langoustine and asparagus by chef Aret Sahakyan. Simple, delicious and full of flavor. Photo courtesy of Maçakizi.

The Exciting Next Chapter

There’s no age limit to success according to Aret. He could easily choose to retire and enjoy the results of a very triumphant four decade career, but instead, he’s heading towards some of the biggest and most exciting challenges of his professional life. This year, Maçakizi will host a lineup of culinary events continuing with what they call “Chef Nights”. A series of collaborations with local and international guest chefs to create special gastronomic experiences for their guests. 

The last one brought legendary Brazilian chef Alex Atala of one of the most awarded restaurants in Latin America D.O.M, to the kitchens of Maçakizi for a very special and exotic weekend. This year Aret, Sahir and the entire team are gearing up for a big bang: a festival that will combine music, art and food to highlight the best that Bodrum can offer to the world.

Last, but definitely not least, and what promises to become Aret’s legacy project and the highlight culinary journey, he is giving the final details to what will become the new jewel of Maçakizi’s dining offering. A new flagship restaurant conceived to elevate their vision even more and that will be an homage to Ayla Emiroglu and her legacy.

Chefs Aret and Alex Atala from D.O.M in Brazil cooking at Maçakizi. Photo courtesy of Maçakizi.

Maçakizi, Göltürkbükü, Narçiçegi Sokak
Göltürkbükü Bodrum, Turkey.

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