Ana Sortun

Ana Sortun

Facebook: @OleanaRestaurant

Instagram: @sortunchef

In the culinary world, the usual career trajectory is simple: Go to culinary school, work your way up in someone else’s kitchen while you learn the ins and outs of the craft and then, with enough luck, open your own space. Ana Sortun may have skipped a couple of steps along the way, but her creations are better for it. 

Ana studied at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris before opening Aigo Bistro in Concord, MA in the early 1990s. After a series of stints in Massachusetts and studying Turkish culture, Ana decided to open her own restaurant, Oleana, in 2001. In 2005, Ana received the James Beard Foundation award for “Best Chef: Northeast.” And industry awards weren’t the only praise she received: Mimi Sheraton once wrote “Sortun is one of the country’s best creative fusion practitioners. Her food is inspired and inspiring,” and Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post wrote, “Should you have time for only one place to eat, make it this space.”

With rave reviews continually pouring in across the board for Oleana and her new effort, Sofra (opened in 2008 in Cambridge, MA), it’s easy to see why Ana’s reputation, along with her place on this list, are secure.

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Ana began her career cooking traditional Mediterranean food, drawing heavily from the local cuisine in Spain, southern France and Italy. However, after a trek to Turkey to learn more about the food and culture, Ana began incorporating eastern Mediterranean spices into her dishes with great success.  

Ana’s philosophy pushes the concepts of plating and presentation back a row, because what’s most important to her is not how her guests feel before or during their meal, but “how one feels after eating a long meal.” Her culinary style is rooted in cultures that treat meals as an experience unto themselves, and her dishes reflect that discipline.

Ana’s use of eastern Mediterranean spices and pairings of slightly offbeat flavor profiles are evident in the menu at Oleana, with dishes such as grilled pita with red pepper, pomegranate molasses and nigella seed, Vermont quail kebob with baharat spice, barberries and pistachio, lamb and grape leaf tart with cumin, orange, orzo and spicy feta, trout spanakopita with cucumber, avocado and roe, and lamb siniya with tahini, baby mustard greens, fig and pine nuts.

At Sofra, Ana focuses on the pastries for which Mediterranean food is most well-known, with offerings such as Börek (fresh cheese pie with nigella seed), lamb moussaka, date almond ma’amoul, tahini shortbread, pistachio baklava nest, and oatmeal fig.