On the Line: Yalcin Aslan of DonerG, Part One

The first time I learned of DonerG was a few years ago, when a friend was attending a convention in Anaheim. We feasted on kebabs that day, and we still reminisce about that meal. Its expansion into an Irvine plaza already experiencing rapid growth from Creamistry and Urban Plates was out of left field. So when the opportunity to meet Yalcin Aslan was presented, I was ready.

Please explain the meaning behind your restaurant name.
This is my favorite question because I truly put a lot of thought into the meaning behind DonerG's name. Doner kebab is very popular throughout the world, especially in Europe and parts of the Middle East. There are many variations of doner kebabs. For example, in Afghanistan and Israel, doner kebabs are called shawarma, and in Greece, it is gyro.

So here's the meaning behind DonerG's name: In Turkish, “donerci” is how we say, “The man who cooks doner.” Our logo is a doner, which is the rotating spit that the kebab meats cook on. I thought writing it as “DonerG” was clever because it is phonetically appropriate for my restaurant and translates well in English.


Your earliest food memory:
My earliest food memory is going to the market with my father to purchase local and fresh ingredients. I remember the smell: Everything was so crisp, from the meats to the vegetables and spices. Every morning, we would go to the market before heading to work at my family's restaurant.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
If my eyes don't like it, I won't eat!

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Variety! There are so many food options, from Middle Eastern to American to Asian, etc.

What are the most popular items on your menu?
Our most popular items are the pita sandwiches, which you can get with chicken or beef. The chicken and beef are cooked on a rotating spit to ensure tenderness and flavor. Then, we shave off the meat and pack them into the pita sandwiches. Other popular items include the shish veal combo plate, which comes with rice, Jajik and DonerG sauce.

Most undervalued ingredient:
Fresh ingredients, whether meat, vegetables or spices! Fresh ingredients are always the best to cook with. [Editor's Note: This is also Yalcin's best culinary tip.] That is why at DonerG, we buy our vegetables from local vendors.

How long ago did the original Anaheim location open, and how many does it seat?
The Anaheim location opened up in 2008, and it currently seats 50 to 60 people. So come on by, everybody!

Could you explain Turkish cuisine for those not familiar with it?
Turkish cuisine is about more than just the food. To us, food is not only a means of nourishment, but also a way for people to build relationships and get to know one another. But to answer your question, Turkish food is a fusion of Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Mediterranean flavors. Spices that are commonly used are parsley, cumin, paprika and oregano.

What's the difference between lavash and pita bread?
Simply put, pita bread is a thick bread that is used to wrap sandwiches or eat with dips. Lavash bread is a thin bread that is also known as cracker bread.

Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
One time, a customer ordered the chicken and veal shish combo plate but asked us to cook it without the meat because she was a vegetarian. We told her that we had a vegetarian option, but she wouldn't hear of it. I thought that was a little peculiar–don't you?

How did the Irvine location come about?
I was blessed with the great opportunity to open a second location in a wonderful community! Irvine is a great place to bring doner kebabs to.

We heard you also sell some of your sauces. Tell us more about them.
1) Jajik is the white cucumber sauce. 2) Chili garlic sauce, which I'm sure many are already familiar with. 3) DonerG Sauce, and I will let our customers guess what is in it. Many of them guess spot-on, which I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing. However, I am glad that some of them have great palates.

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