The British restaurant scene is booming, and Turkish chef Sertaç Dirik is at the forefront of it all. The head cook at London’s Mangal II hasn’t had a smooth journey, serving at family-owned restaurants for punishment as a teenager. He found love in the kitchen, carrying on his father’s dynamic legacy. Dirik cemented himself in London and Copenhagen, learning from his peers who spruced him up in more ways than one.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2024, Dirik took over Mangal II and introduced modern techniques in and out of the kitchen. He gave the beloved menu a petite makeover while his brother Ferhat managed everyday operations. The siblings introduced new dishes and kept their customers in mind, upholding their father’s original concept for generations to come.
Ahead of his departure, Dirik joins US denim pioneer Lee to front its London-focused “Workwear Is Our Soul” series. The campaign highlights diverse creatives worldwide, touching down in Sweden, France, Poland, and the UK. Dirik is captured on British streets, traveling around London while preparing food with his team.
Hypebeast sat down with Sertaç Dirik to discuss his love for cooking, unions between fashion and food, and his participation in Lee’s “Workwear Is Our Soul” series. 1 of 4
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Hypebeast: When did you first find a passion for cooking and food?
Sertaç Dirik: I grew up working weekends at my family restaurant from around 14. It wouldn’t be accurate to say I developed a passion from a young age because I was mostly working out of punishment. I’d act up and be sentenced to three months of weekend work, and then that transitioned into working for pocket money. Eventually, I dropped out of my design course at university because my brain couldn’t handle a 9-5 job, five days a week, scarred from my late starts and evening shifts.
After two years of working full-time, I felt like a competent grill chef. l wanted to take it to the next level, so I moved to Copenhagen to learn the brutal truths of a “hard” kitchen, and I very quickly realized that I didn’t know anything about it. I slogged for two more years playing catch-up with my peers, who were infinitely better than me. Faster, cleaner, more organized. I lost 13 kilos and gained the knowledge I needed to come back to the family restaurant, which by this point was in pretty bad shape — there was no time to rest.
My brother Ferhat and I put on our rubber gloves and began to scrub and gut the place — a biblical feat for two guys, but in those moments, we spoke about life, our plans for the restaurant, and all the changes we’d make. It’s actually a miracle I ended up cooking professionally, considering how difficult the last few years have been. For the record, I absolutely love my job.
Tell me about your journey entering the food industry and how this led you to Mangal II.
Mangal II was opened by our Dad in 1994, a second to his already successful Mangal Ocakbaşı around the corner on Arcola Street. He was a true craftsman, considered a grill master “usta;” he had brought that style of cooking into the UK in the late ‘80s. He is responsible for training hundreds of young Turks who went on to open their own Mangals all over the country. It was truly a marvel to watch him work, moving those skewers on the grill and transferring the coals horizontally, banging off excess fats where necessary — every evening, he would perform a 5-hour drum solo, and customers got to sit around the grill where he would pass them plates of delicious pieces of lamb.
Our Dad retired young, burnt out from his years on the grill, and Ferhat took the reigns as manager. It was no easy feat, but he held the fort and kept the restaurant running solo. Our Dad popped in now and again, but not at the capacity the restaurant needed him to be. Together, Ferhat and I were able to support each other and fill in the gaps. I realized I wasn’t going to do our Dad’s menu justice and slowly began cutting the dishes down from 74 to 32, put my own specials on, gaged the reactions, and slowly replaced old dishes with new ones. Now, it’s a very different restaurant, but the same soul and energy of the building remain, and we managed to bring it back to life.
“I realized I wasn’t going to do our Dad’s menu justice and slowly began cutting the dishes down from 74 to 32.”
How does your work at Mangal II reflect who you are as a chef?
I think it was a project that had to be approached with caution, the restaurant is two years older than I am, so tampering with something sacred and beloved was very difficult. I can only best describe it as an out-of-body experience; the project wasn’t about me or what I wanted, and I had to step outside my wants and desires and figure out what the restaurant needed. Yes, it gave me a platform to show who I was because the changes we made drew a lot of attention, but my decisions behind each dish were “What’s good for Mangal?” over “What’s good for me?”.
How do you see the intersection between fashion and food growing in the future?
Mangal II has always had a foot in the world of the arts beyond food being considered a creative craft. A large portion of our guests have been creatives in the arts and fashion. I always felt our restaurant — being in the location it is, its price point, and the offering it has — allowed it to be a space where both hungry artists and gourmand eaters could enjoy a meal. There are obvious trends of seeing food popularized in the media with various TV shows and films, but I believe brands reaching out to make meaningful connections with businesses like ours is very cool — attaching things to something tangible and real should always be celebrated.
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How did your partnership with Lee come to be?
Lee reached out to see if I’d get involved with the new Workwear collection. It’s cool to be able to align with brands in my line of work; it’s often not the most glamorous job, and being recognized fit for the “Workwear Is Our Soul” campaign is special. Workwear is part of the job, so it feels like a natural partnership here — the clothes are durable and well crafted.
How does the partnership combine fashion and food in new and creative ways?
Highlighting similarities in what we do is key here — when we see these crossovers more often, there will be a wider respect and understanding of craft in general, especially in a day and age where the creative arts are being considered less important. Crafts are dying, and the want for mastery is fading away — showcasing what I do to an audience that may not necessarily get to see behind the scenes because of Lee may just get more people in the kitchen.
What are your plans for career expansion in the near future?
I’m leaving Mangal in February to pursue some more personal projects — a few R&D trips and events to realize what that might be. Stay tuned!
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