Bosnian refugee finds recipe for success in Tucson - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Bosnian refugee finds recipe for success in Tucson

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Posted: Tuesday, November 11, 2008 5:50 pm | Updated: 9:08 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

TUCSON - The Bosnian concentration camps of the 1990s are far removed from the life of Ahmet Alisah, 51, who now owns a Tucson restaurant.

Alisah was captured and imprisoned on a trip to visit his family during the Bosnian War. Now he is one chef who can say with conviction that he would guard his recipes with his life.

One of those recipes is for cevapi, or Bosnian sausage, which put Bosnia on the international culinary map, according to Alisah. He makes cevapi along with a dozen other Bosnian dishes at his restaurant, Chef Alisah's Restaurant European and Bosnian Cuisine.

Alisah's recipe is a closely guarded secret. Even his wife of 28 years, Halida, doesn't know the details.

"I will give my life for my wife, but I won't give her (the) recipe," Alisah said.

His son, Emir, 12, is the only other person who knows the recipe.

"Nobody in United States (makes) cevapi like me," Alisah said proudly.

Bar and restaurant broker Bob Kramber acknowledged his client's talent in the kitchen.

"I think he's kind of like myself. I just want to do one thing and do it better than anyone else," Kramber said.

Alisah claims to have the only 100 percent Bosnian-food restaurant in the country, saying that other Bosnian restaurants are merely posing. He mentions that some serve non-Bosnian items such as hamburgers.

"He's got something in town that nobody else has," Kramber said.

Alisah says he is living the American dream.

Vines growing up the complex wall give the building a Mediterranean feel. Adorning the walls inside are enlarged photographs of Bosnia. Pictures include the capital city Sarajevo and the famous Stari Most, or old bridge.

Life was not always so easy for this chef, however. A prisoner during the war, Alisah was held captive for six months, which he said felt like six years.

The war lasted from 1992-95 and involved several sides divided over the breakup of Yugoslavia. Ethnic cleansing was involved and 200,000 people were killed.

Alisah was moved from concentration camp to concentration camp. At times Alisah was stuck in a cell with nearly 100 people crammed together.

He spent four years recuperating in hospitals.

After his health improved and he secured visas for his family, they packed up and headed for America.

He came to Tucson on Aug. 12, 1998, as a part of the refugee program.

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