Ana Sortun: Chef-owner of Oleana, Sofra Bakery & Café, Sarma

Photo by Michael Piazza

Ana Sortun is the epitome of clear vision and unwavering focus. At 14, she was a dishwasher in a restaurant; nine months later she was cooking in the kitchen and knew right then that she’d own her own restaurant. Later, while a chef at the now-closed Harvard Square icon Casablanca, a chance conversation with a friend of the owner led to a trip to Turkey that radically transformed her approach to food. “All chefs think about how food tastes and looks. But most stop there. In Turkey, I learned to think about how food makes us feel.

Ana has a deep appreciation for layered flavors, eastern Mediterranean spicing and high-quality ingredients. She works with women-run food production collectives and spice purveyors around Turkey, creating and expanding a demand for the products here. For her restaurants, she sources fresh local ingredients from Siena Farms, run by husband Chris Kurth and named for their daughter.

After Oleana, her flagship Turkish-inspired restaurant, she opened Middle Eastern–themed Sofra Café & Bakery and then Sarma, a Turkish-style mayhane (tavern). All three showcase her unusual ability to translate foreign culinary concepts into something at once familiar and exotic.

She is deeply appreciative of her team, to whom she credits her success. “Mel Gibson and Brad Pitt came here [to Oleana] recently.” She laughs in disbelief. “Growing up, if someone had told me I’d have a restaurant in Cambridge those two would visit, I’d have said ‘No. No way.’”

This story appeared in the Winter 2019 issue.

RAYNA JHAVERI is a TV chef on the Emmy-nominated cooking show Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Television. She's also a standup comedian, improv musician and executive performance trainer. For more information and bookings, go to raynajhaveri.com.