Chef Ali Ince grew up in a small fishing and farming village beside the Mediterranean Sea, and learned to cook in a world-renowned, century-old Ottoman castle. After creating beautiful, nutritious meals for people on cruise ships and in Napa’s wine country, he and his team, BOXiChef, became one of Territory’s founding San Francisco chefs.
You know him for his awesome OG dishes like Brunch in a Bowl, Pulled Beef over Ratatouille, and Apple Roasted Chicken w/ Moroccan Cauliflower Rice (his personal favorite, if he had to pick just one), and for more recent favorites like Chicken Biryani and Chicken Balsamico w/ Pink Peppercorn.
Sitting down with him, I learned that along with being a world-class chef, he was also a promising young boxer, that he admires Thomas Keller (ditto!), and that his Territory is anywhere that his kids also happen to be.
So honored to share a bit more about Chef Ali’s story with you.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
By the Mediterranean sea, in a small fishing town, kind of like a farming community. I went to the farm with my grandma almost every day in the summer – and started digging, picking, planting and cooking as I got older. I lived there until I was fifteen, then moved to Istanbul and started working in a restaurant in Topkapi Palace that has been there since 1897, and serves unique Ottoman cuisine.
SO, WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THE BAY AREA?
I started working on a cruise line and moved to New Jersey. My cousin and I opened a restaurant, but after 10 years we thought it was too cold, so we moved to Napa and opened a restaurant. After a few years I started to feel like Napa was too small so I moved to the Bay Area.
NOW AS A LOCAL, WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE MEAL HERE?
BBQ. At one point, we were in the same kitchen as these two brothers that do such wonderful short ribs and baby back ribs. That was really, really enjoyable.
WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU WERE A KID?
I probably wanted to be a boxer. My coach used to call me Little Mohammad Ali. I have a few national championships at my age and weight. I got into a prestigious club and had to make a decision whether to move forward as a boxer, or to move my life down a different path. I started learning English – school started at 6, and boxing lessons started at 6, so I had to make the tough decision.
If I were born again today, I would definitely want to become a chef again. Being creative, doing what I enjoy every day. Even Sundays, I come here [to my kitchen] to have food with my kids. My son, he’s 4, loves cooking. He’s amazing, whatever I do, he wants to do. He wants to break the egg, takes his plastic knife to cut the fish.
WAS THERE A PARTICULAR MOMENT WHEN YOU REALIZED YOU WANTED TO BE A CHEF?
Oh yeah. When I moved to Istanbul, I started working at the restaurant. Watching the food get plated, the creativity of it all, that’s when it clicked for me. It was such an inspiring environment, especially that being my first job away from home.
IF YOU COULD GET THE INVITE TO ANY OTHER CHEF’S DINNER PARTY, WHOSE WOULD IT BE?
Thomas Keller, I love his creations. Especially when in Napa, close to his environment. I actually joined a few of his gatherings in Yountville. It’s great to be around him and other great chefs.
AND IF YOU COULD COOK FOR ANYONE IN THE WORLD, WHO WOULD IT BE?
That would have been Antonio Grande. He is a wonderful, talented chef in new Jersey who taught me so much of what I know. I learned a lot from him, I would love to cook for him and get his opinion on my work. He was like my father in this country.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU MOST ABOUT FOOD?
Learning new things. When I go to the farmer’s market, looking at the vegetables, fruits with different colors, I get so inspired thinking what I could create. I am always happy, joyful, and satisfied by myself when I cook.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE PART OF THE TERRITORY CHEF NETWORK?
We’ve been making Territory meals since the very beginning, over 3 years. And the staff that made them then, are still the ones making them today. We are like one big family over here.
They enjoy every bit of what they create. When we’re brainstorming new meal concepts, they contribute their ideas, they’re a big part of the process. They take so much pride in what they do, ensuring each meal is carefully assembled and consistent from week to week. It’s important to us that customers receive the same, high quality meals each week.
SPEAKING OF WHICH, WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TERRITORY MEAL THAT YOU MAKE?
I really love every meal to be honest, but if I had to choose one, probably the Apple Roasted Chicken with Moroccan Cauliflower Rice. It’s nutty, fruity, savory, sweet… you have it all in one meal.
AND FINALLY CHEF, WHAT’S YOUR TERRITORY?
My family, my home and my kitchen.
As soon as I’m done at the kitchen, I run to my family. My son loves fishing, going to playgrounds. Whatever he enjoys, is where I’m happy. You live your whole life one way, until you have your kids, then everything changes. Your life isn’t your own life anymore, it’s all for them.
If you live in the Bay Area and looking for some clean, locally crafted eats, grab a few meals on us. Take $30 off your first Territory order with code CHEFALI.