15 June, 2024

How chef superstar Mehmet Gürs came home to Helsinki

A lifetime of travelling has made Finnish-Turkish Mehmet Gürs the man he is today. Claiming to have no ties to any nationality, he prefers to appreciate the world’s immense variety of cultures and landscapes. This ethos is reflected in his food, too.

Mehmet Gürs' Restaurant Andrea serves anatolian flavours in downtown Helsinki

Celebrity chef Mehmet Gürs has never stayed still for long. Born in Finland to a Turkish father and Swedish-speaking Finnish mother, he grew up in Stockholm where the family would regularly move house on a whim.

Summers were spent in the Finnish archipelago and Southern Turkey, many winter holidays with the Finnish grandparents in Southern Spain. 

As a teenager, Gürs followed his parents back to Istanbul, escaping the shock of the conservative society to surf and hike up mountains whenever he could.

Having abruptly abandoned his plan to become a doctor in Sweden, Gürs instead completed a hospitality management degree in the United States. He immediately felt the pull of the kitchen.

Maybe it was the Finnish-Swedish affinity for natural food that did it.

Home-cooked dinners were a huge thing for us when I was a child, with proper table setting and everyone sitting down together, Gürs says.

Fun dining from the creator of Mikla

After a few years working for the Hilton hotel chain and the Back Bay Restaurant Group, Gürs returned to Istanbul to open his first restaurant in 1996. Today, he manages over 20 establishments. 

One of these is Mikla, which has been listed as one of the world’s top 50 restaurants. Another of his creations is Restaurant Andrea in Helsinki.

- With Andrea, I was invited to create something unique and new for the Helsinki restaurant scene: a place that would combine great food with a friendly and warm, even loud and rowdy atmosphere.

When given a tour of Helsinki restaurants, Gürs quickly understood what was lacking. Something more fun instead of stuck up, as he likes to say. 

Shorts, sumac and sharing at Restaurant Andrea

To combat this, Gürs likes food to be shared, which already helps get people talking. At Helsinki’s Andrea, starched white tablecloths have given way to a casual, bistro-like ambiance, and there is no posing or dress code. Visitors are just as welcome in a t-shirt and shorts as they are in a suit.

The menu combines the pure and calm Finnish flavours with the rough and spicy Anatolian kitchen.

In short, Andrea is a fusion, much like Gürs himself.

–I don’t feel like I’m tied to any nationality, but everywhere I’ve been has affected me. The food culture of a country, too, is affected by everyone who passes through it. Turkey, for example, has always been a crossroads, between the North and South, East and West. That’s what makes any kitchen so rich – the people.

Fun dining rather than fine dining is the motto of Restaurant Andrea

Visiting Helsinki from a new perspective

To Gürs, working in Helsinki has been like coming home – having the opportunity to rediscover the country and the flavours of his childhood.

- When you’re away from somewhere, you somehow become even more connected to it. I was already fusing Finnish and Anatolian flavours at Mikla in Istanbul, but now I get to experiment with them in more depth. My current aim is trying to find berries that can be dried and used much like sumac and other spices from the Middle East.

Gürs has also taken pleasure in visiting Helsinki as a business traveller and tourist – rather than purely to see relatives, as he used to in the past.

He enjoys the Nordic light, the space and the presence of nature, which is in direct contrast with the constant noise, bustle and traffic of Istanbul, a mega-city of over 17 million people.

–I can also see how much Helsinki has changed since my childhood – it’s really vibrant and happening, full of life, and getting better all the time. My latest restaurant project at Andrea fits in perfectly with this new Helsinki.

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