Journeys in Taste Interview with Ahmet Dede of Michelin Star Restaurant Dede
It’s never too late, but try telling that to an ambitious 25-year-old. If you are Ahmet Dede, however, being late to the party (so to speak) isn’t as much of a disadvantage as it sounds. Now in his mid-30s, the County Cork-based, twice-awarded Michelin star chef has come a long, long way since he first arrived in Ireland in 2010. Amazingly, Ahmet had never trained as a chef, had never worked as a chef, had no idea as to what the Michelin Guide actually meant, but his mixture of passion, dedication and ambition were enough to set him on a path of no return and no small reward. “My love of food comes from my mother,” says Ahmet. “She’s a home cook, and she cooked every day, all day for the family in Turkey. I used to help her a lot with the preparation, and when I look back now that was clearly my inspiration.”
Born in Ankara, Ahmet and his family (parents and two older brothers) moved from there to Kusadasi in 1995, when he was ten years of age. Another family influence from around this time was his uncle, whose European-style restaurant in Kusadasi opened up a world of swooshing coffee machines and shaking/stirring cocktails. Working infrequently in his uncle’s restaurant into his 20s, Ahmet moved to Ireland, seeking work in the food industry. He gained a foothold via a cookery course at DIT, from which he learned about gradations of quality and how to achieve the very best of these. His primary aim? To work only in Michelin-starred restaurants.
Tick them off: Chapter One, Restaurant Patrick Gilbaud, The Greenhouse (Dublin), &moshik (Amsterdam), and Maaemo (Oslo). From the very start, explains Ahmet, he knew he only wanted to work with the best. Whether he felt he was making up for lost time or that his ambition burned much brighter than many others, there was no doubt that Ahmet’s career trajectory was stretching ever upwards. “I wanted to start at the top and work with incredible chefs. If you surround yourself with great people then you soak up their talents and skills. I really wanted to sharpen my abilities but I also wanted to cook for people – yes, my family and friends, but also strangers. That’s a nice feeling, to be able to do that – it makes people happy and puts a smile on their faces.”
Ahmet isn’t coy about admitting the strategy he put into place in order to work at such restaurants and with such chefs as Ross Lewis, Jordan Bailey and Mickael Viljanen. It may have been a dream come true to be in the same spaces as these culinary masters, but it was the end result of dedicated planning – as well, of course, of being extraordinarily good at what he did.
“When I started working in these places,” he relates, “I began to learn about not only the hard work but also the rewards that come with it. I’m not talking about money but the recognition of the skills by people, and by bodies such as Michelin. The likes of Chapter One, Gilbaud, Greenhouse and the rest were steps on the ladder, but I knew from the beginning that I wanted to work specifically in these restaurants so I could learn as much as I could from the people that worked in them. From working in five different Michelin restaurants and with five different chefs, I learned all about aspects of food produce and preparation, the art of presentation and the presentation of art.”
Come 2017, Ahmet returned once again to Ireland but not to Dublin. Instead, he travelled further south to Baltimore in West Cork, where he took on the role of head chef at Mews. The plan was working a treat – the restaurant may have been compact, but Ahmet was the go-to guy in the kitchen. As if to make his dream-come-true more vibrant and vivid (and just as realistic) Mews won a Michelin star two years running. “That was incredible, of course. I was so happy, so proud, but if I’m to be honest the feeling was quite overwhelming.”
When Mews closed in January 2020, Ahmet knew a few things had been ingrained: he was not leaving Baltimore, and he was going to remain a head chef. Cue the opening, against all odds in such a precarious year, of his restaurant, Dede, in the summer of 2020. Cue something else just as incredible at the start of 2021: Ahmet being the only chef in Ireland to gain a Michelin star.
“I felt I was very much on the right path – I had worked in two restaurants, each with a different concept, and I received a Michelin star for each. Dede is unlike Mews, however, because what I cook there is different – its focus is the flavour and style of food from Turkey. When I started Dede, I wasn’t thinking about a Michelin star so much – for me, it was one of those things I felt would arrive at some point. That said, when I got the star for Dede the feeling was very different from the when I got the star for Mews. It felt more personal and that, of course, is because it was for a restaurant that had my name, literally, on the door. The food directly referenced my Turkish background, also, so the second star was quite special.”
Philosophical to the point of Zen-like about the pear-shaped year that was 2020 (“as it was for everybody, it had its ups and downs”), for this year there are, Ahmet says, the kind of plans that are defined, all too inevitably, by two words: ‘hopeful’ and ‘provisional’. The main aim is to be as creative as possible.
“Takeout options, for sure. We have a little lifestyle shop we’re working on and hopefully, at some point, we’ll open the restaurant. I don’t think we’ll be doing as extensive a tasting menu as we have done previously, because we don’t know how long the sittings will be for in the restaurant. I suppose, much as it will be for everyone else, the keyword is adaptability.”
We leave Ahmet to get on with doing what he does best – making creative food that comforts the soul as much as the body and for which a Michelin star is purely a lovely add-on. “Getting a Michelin star doesn’t just happen because you open a restaurant,” concludes Ahmet. “As we all know, recognition like that comes from years of hard work and dedication. You have to build your skillsets as a chef and your character as a person. That applies to any career – you work hard, yes, but if you surround yourself with good people with good work ethics then you soak all of that up.”
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WRITTEN BY TONY CLAYTON-LEA
Journeys in Taste Interviews are Sponsored by Lexus Ireland