Le Piment Rouge: A Culinary Retreat Run by Bilkent Students


The culinary landscape of Ankara is not the most welcoming of places for serious eaters. There are only a few places serving international cuisine, and those that do are not particularly creative when it comes to their menus. The common understanding of "international cuisine" is limited to your usual sampling of fajitas, chicken with soy sauce and Pasta Alfredo. But what is most frustrating is not so much the range of the menus, but the unwillingness of chefs to play with their recipes, show a little bravery and explore new combinations. With a truly good chef, you can feel his or her excitement, an almost childlike pleasure in surprising the customer with unexpected combinations of tastes.

This excitement in creating and serving food is what makes Le Piment Rouge so special and beckons one to return again and again for a new dose of culinary daring. Here, an ordinary pizza surprises with a dash of cinnamon, a Middle Eastern chicken shish kebab hints at its Far Eastern siblings with a marinade of refined marinade.

Another feature setting Le Piment Rouge apart from other restaurants is the fact that students prepare and serve the food. The restaurant is part of the Tourism and Hotel Management Departments at Bilkent University. Ali Ünal, the restaurant service instructor, explains: "This is the first and only university practice restaurant in Turkey. Our students learn how to run a restaurant, from the purchasing of produce to the presentation of dishes."

The menu of Le Piment Rouge changes weekly, each time transporting the customer to a different region of the world. "Throughout the term we travel through different regional cuisines, because we want students to get to know them," says Zeki Polatkesen, the chef instructor. And the students do not complain. In fact, the course inspires some students to dream of their own future as restaurateurs. Ezgi Kılıç, a fourth-year industrial engineering student, ponders the idea of perhaps, after 10 years of working as an engineer,  changing her profession and opening a cafe or restaurant: "If I have enough savings, why not?"

Ezgi Kılıç is an exception of sorts, though. Most students taking one of the two classes whose members work at Le Piment Rouge are from the Tourism and Hotel Management Departments and already know that their future will be in the service sector. Their plans are similar to that of Serenay Akın, a second-year tourism student, who will start a career at her father's hotel after graduating. "I am going to help him," she explains.

Ali Ünal's story is another example of such a career path. Himself a graduate of the school, he too worked as a waiter at Le Piment Rouge during his student days. After receiving his diploma, he worked at the Ankara Hilton before returning to his alma mater in 2004, this time as an instructor.

As someone who knows the gastronomic scene in Ankara, Mr. Ünal explains the problem that most restaurants in the city face: "Customers in Ankara expect everything" -- that is, "big taste" and a small tab. While this fact limits the range of services in most restaurants, Le Piment Rouge has an advantage. For the 18 Turkish liras that patrons pay for a three-course menu, they get more than their money's worth.

This combination of big taste, small tabs and a warm and welcoming atmosphere is what makes Le Piment Rouge the perfect culinary retreat for serious eaters.

Le Piment Rouge is open Monday to Friday from noon to 2 p.m. You are advised to make reservations as early as possible, as much as a week in advance. The restaurant is not usually able to accommodate walk-in customers. You can find an updated menu in each issue of Bilkent News or on the School of Tourism and Hotel Services website at http://www.ths.bilkent.edu.tr.