Top chef Kozeen Shiwan, a rock star of the restaurant scene, has felt like a lone wolf for a long time and has been longing for change. Now he has returned to his roots by creating an entirely new world of taste sensations from Middle Eastern flavours.
My life story is quite far from the ordinary. I was born in Iraqi Kurdistan. My father was a journalist, and he was imprisoned for a few months in the 1990s. Our family of five lived under constant threat. We sold everything we owned and came to Finland via Turkey in 1998. I was nine at the time.
I grew up in Mukkula in Lahti. We led a modest but happy life. As a teenager, I helped my uncle at his pizzeria, and later my father at his. I gained my first experiences in the restaurant business at places run by my relatives. I also learned high work morale and ethics, which have brought me here. I like to think that hard work is rewarded.
After comprehensive school, I applied to a chef school – three times until I was admitted. During my first year, I won an inter-school chef competition for students. Later I completed my practical training requirement at a fine dining restaurant in the Netherlands, where I won the European Championship for chef students.
After graduation, I worked at In De Wulf in Belgium and Ask in Finland, among other restaurants.
I dare to experiment and do as I see best. I don’t care what others think of me – I follow my intuition. I have combined art and food, for example. Many people may remember me from the series of I AM pop-up dinners at the Design Museum in 2017 and from MasterChef Finland in 2020.
I break boundaries and venture outside my comfort zone, which is where I stand out in the restaurant business. I follow my heart: someone needs to have the courage to lead the way, so others can follow.
For a long time, I have been feeling that I need to change.
When I was offered the opportunity to open a pop-up restaurant under my name for Foodolo within the Olo Group, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. In this concept, my approach to food is different from before.
Now it feels like everything is falling into place. I have created an entirely new world of taste sensations from Middle Eastern flavours. I have returned to my roots, to where I come from – and it feels so good!
The Kozeen Shiwan menu is divided into three parts: the past, the present and the future. The menu is based on my childhood memories of Middle Eastern street food, my experiences of working for my relatives in their restaurants in my youth, and what I have learned at top restaurants in Helsinki and abroad.
There is a story behind every dish I create. They are based on foods that have shaped my identity. I have used traditional ingredients to prepare high-quality dishes in a modern manner.
There is a certain roughness and sense of rebellion in the menu. At the same time, however, it is very carefully thought out. This is something new in Finland: my approach to food combined with the Middle East.
This pop-up project pays homage to my roots, and the dishes reflect various stages of my life. The menu shows who I am, where I come from and where I am going.
For example, in the first part of the menu, I have used my mother’s hummus recipe. In the second part, I have modified calzone, which is accompanied by juicy grilled chicken. I have always wanted to create my version of calzone! The menu also includes doner kebab with pita, another childhood favourite of mine – fine-tuned, of course.
My signature dish, King Potato, is on the menu as a new version, King Potato Jr, enjoyed with a delicious sauce made from pickled mango.
The future tastes sweet. The specialities on the menu include turmeric sorbet, which takes taste sensations to an entirely new level. The menu also includes traditional Middle Eastern delicacies, such as baklava.
You can choose between a shorter and longer menu – or you can pop in for a glass of wine and a meal. No narrow-minded conventions: in our times, it’s important that food gives us joy.