If ever you get the chance to visit Kasımpaşa, you should follow the sweet smell of cookies that will lead you to Girgin’s Marla Pastry Shop, where you will be greeted with a warm welcome and offered homemade cookies.
Girgin was born in Kasımpaşa, and when he was 11 years old, he had to begin working to take care of his family. He worked at a pastry shop that belonged to one of his relatives and from a young age realized that life was hard and challenging. He wanted to go to school, but he had to work during the day, so he completed his secondary and high-school education at a night school. He found it very hard. In the evening, his co-workers went home, but he had to head to campus for classes, dreaming of the big business he would establish. He studied tourism and hotel management at university.
Working with Greek master chefs
After working at his uncle’s shop for two years, he began working for Harry Lenas, a famous Greek chef at the time. Girgin was filled with so much energy where pastries were concerned that he even dreamt at night of making them. His first cake was a source of pride for him, and he is still moved when he remembers that day. “One day, the chef unexpectedly wanted me to make a cake. I took care of everything during the making of the cake. When I was done, the chef expressed great admiration and put it on display. I was so excited I couldn’t get to sleep that night. The following day, I got up early and set off for the pastry shop at 5 a.m. I burst into tears when I saw my cake on display.”
At the age of 17, Girgin applied to work for another famous pastry master, Sarı Hasan. It wasn’t easy to get Hasan to agree to let him work with him, but Girgin’s silver tongue helped him to get his approval. Learning all of the intricacies of the job in one-and-a-half years, Girgin started to surpass his master. At a pastry competition held in London, he came second. As the age of 22, he started to work as a master chef at a big hotel in Bucharest. His ever-increasing longing for his hometown led Girgin to return to Turkey just one year later and open up a pastry shop of his own. Everyone around him, particularly his family, disapproved because there were three rival shops in the same area. But Girgin was determined to proceed with his plan and eventually opened the shop after acquiring a loan. Not satisfied with just selling pastries, he was also eager to produce ice cream, but he lacked the funds to do this. With the help of his brother, he managed to get another loan and over time, his ice cream became well-known. Sales proved so good that he was able to repay the loans in just one month.
To reach out to more people, he established the Pastry Makers Association (PASDER) in 2003. The association now has 6,000 members. Through this association, Girgin helps pastry chefs earn more and have access to job offers abroad. Chefs working abroad tend to acquire the ingredients they need from Turkey, which helps boost Turkey’s exports. They are held in such a high esteem in the countries where they work that some of the chefs don’t want to return to Turkey.
Patented ‘ball of happiness’
Girgin wanted to produce cakes using only organic ingredients because of the adverse effects of additives to people’s health. He made a cake using three types of milk and egg and put it on display. But it had no name. His customers really liked the new cake and told him that it made them happy. So he decided to name it “the ball of happiness” and obtained a patent for the cake.
Girgin believes that as a profession, pastry making has become very popular, and so he plans to open up a pastry school. This must be done to train good chefs, he says. He has big goals for the future and is determined to achieve great things.