Pictured : Ahmet Dede
Ahmet Dede is the Head Chef at Baltimore’s Michelin-starred Mews Restaurant. He shares the story of his journey to Baltimore with West Cork People.
Ahmet Dede – in his own words…Almost.
In 2015, the European Commission office on Dawson Street closed. With their move to new offices at Mount Street, they took with them a letter written to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. A letter of gratitude for a donation of £1000 made to the people of Ireland in 1847 at the height of the famine. As the letter found a new home, another emissary from Turkey was arriving at The Greenhouse restaurant, Dublin’s hottest then.
Ahmet Dede was on the move. James Joyce joked in Ulysses that it would be some trick to cross Dublin without passing a pub. For Ahmet Dede, his journey from Kusadasi on the Aegean Sea involved the trick of never working in a restaurant that was not Michelin starred. At least not by the time he was travelling on again.
We rang Ahmet while he was chilling on the beach at Inchydoney watching his friends surfing. A day off. Winter is over. Spring has sprung in Baltimore and West Cork.
“My name is Ahmet Dede. I am a Turkish man. I was born in Ankara, capital of Turkey. A big city, the second biggest in Turkey. When I was 10 we moved to a small town on the Aegean Sea, Kusadasi.
“It is on the coast. A small peaceful village. I grew up there. A fishing village and a tourist village. Big now but it was small then with fishermen, farmers – a lot bigger than Baltimore. I grew up there from the age of 10.
“I grew up with fresh food, that was always the key, we always had fresh vegetables – the weather in Turkey is so beautiful – we were surrounded by so much fresh vegetables, fresh herbs, it was always around us. My mum did all the cooking. I grew up eating fresh home-style humble food…that’s where my cooking started, with my mum, Dennet. I learned to make simple stuff – stews, cassoulets, lots of pastry work, simple desserts. I was always interested in the cooking but I never thought I would become a professional chef. I thought I would become a footballer: I was a goalkeeper when I was young.
“My uncle had a restaurant in Kusadai and I worked there in the summers – but I never worked in the kitchen – it was always at the front of house or behind the bar. My brother was a chef there but not me. My uncle served good simple food, a lot of European dishes because his wife was a good cook from Belgium – we got lots of good meats, good fish, good vegetables from farmers around. Great fish – mackerel, bream, calamari – simply prepared, simply cooked – just good food.
“I came to Ireland in 2009, I was 24. I had married an Irish girl, Donna. We met in Turkey. She was on holidays – we met when I was 18. We lived in Turkey for the first year and then we went to Ireland, to Dublin. We lived in the city centre on Merrion Square.
“What will I do? I wondered. One day we went to the job centre and I was looking and thought I might do a course or learn a craft and I saw a brochure where you could go to a cooking school for 16 weeks and they would give you a fast paced learning – run by Failte Ireland in Amien Street. I learned and my lecturers were really happy with me, telling me I was talented and that I should really continue and that they would help me get into DIT. There, in my first year, I learned about fine dining – what is a Michelin star? I had two friends who worked in a restaurant called L’Ecrivain and I could see that they could cook really well and work well with knives. It made me curious so I googled what is Michelin and what is it about and I looked for the best restaurant in Dublin and the first one that came on the search result was Chapter One. So I went there, rang the bell and asked for the head chef. We sat and had coffee and I said I wanted to work one day a week there while I was in college – and after three weeks he offered me a job and that’s how I started – my first professional kitchen. I worked there for about a year-and-a-half and then I left and went to work at Patrick Guildbauds. I worked there for a year and I then went back to Turkey for two months. When I returned to Dublin I went back to Chapter One. I stayed there one year and after that I went to Amsterdam for two years and worked in & moshik – a two Michelin starred restaurant. They had opened four months and had two stars straight away – I stayed there 18 months – I always worked in Michelin star restaurants.”
L’Ecrivain and Guildbauds are classics in the world of Dublin restaurants. Both steeped in French traditions, both lasting over 30 years in a business that sees almost 80 per cent of restaraunts close within a year. &moshik is something different again. Here, an alchemy of molecular and classic cuisine is practised by the Israeli Dutch maestro, Moshik Roth. For a chef who began his career at 25, Ahmet’s ability to open doors was second only to the talent he was showing in the kitchen.
“I love the adrenalin – the passion – the work you do – the people who are travelling to just eat your food – and I was happy because I was good at it – people were happy everywhere with my skill and my dedication. After I came back from Amsterdam, I took a job in a restaurant called Greenhouse on Dawson Street – it had no star – I took a job as the sous chef and it got a star – I thought, this is amazing! I stayed there for two years and then I moved to Norway.
“In Oslo, I worked at Maaemo, a 3 star, that changed my way of looking at chefing and everything else – what they do well there is locally sourced food – like what we are doing here in Baltimore – it changed the way I looked at the produce. I became much more interested in the seasonality of ingredients, in the local farmers who produced them, and the connectedness in these relationships.”
Maaemo is something else again. Holmboe Bang, the head chef, isn’t in it for the accolades. He considers himself to be just a ‘cook’. He aims to create a cuisine that honours the traditions of Norway while reflecting the poverty of it’s past. His engagement with the past is one of preservation and evolution. For just a ‘cook’, he is considered one of the best chefs in the world. For Ahmet, his apprenticeship was coming to an end.
“After I came back from Norway I was ready to do something on my own. I saw that The Mews was looking for a whole team – they came to Dublin to meet me – I came to Baltimore and visited the restaurant and the local farmers and I took the job in march 2017. I brought my team with me – two others Marina Jacques, Sommelier and Remi Lachialle, Sous Chef – and we started.
“I live in Baltimore – near the corner of the pier. Baltimore is amazing, I love it, it is a peaceful happy place. I knew there was something here – it changes you as a person – you find out more about yourself – there’s something in the nature and the sea – and you just focus more upon your craft – its not like city life – you’re far way from the spot light and everything – you just focus on your own thing. I learn, I get inspired every day from the place and the people – it’s different down here. It’s easy to adapt to a city – it happens quick – but here you come in the early season and there is no one here – you only see a handful of people – it can be a boring place if you don’t like this kind of lifestyle – the people I brought were people I knew would like the environment – would adapt to it – that was the most important part of getting a team together. My team is young – they have experience but not the crazy high experience – they love this environment – that makes the difference – you must love the lifestyle of West Cork. It kind of reminds me of back home, in Kusadasi – really busy in summer and really quiet in winter – surrounded by the nature, the sea, the landscape – it just connected to me really quick.
“I think the most proud thing for me is to come to a small fishing village and use 100 per cent West Cork ingredients and put this place on the map so that everybody knows about it more than ever. I hope I am opening more doors for the next generation. Many Irish chefs often leave and never come back. I am a foreign guy and I came here in 2017 and I say to the guys, this place is special – you local guys don’t realise it – some people don’t realise what they have here in their own country. When they come to the restaurant and see all the ingredients – they are like we never knew these flavours were here. But you do. You have great ingredients here – better than Italy or France – there is too much importing here of ingredients. It is here…everything you need.
“But it is very hard work – this is not an easy craft. To be a chef is hard, lots of long hours, but it’s the best thing I have ever done and I am in an inspirational place – you never know who you meet or what you find – it’s limitless where you can go in your imagination down here. I’d like to stay here for years – I want to achieve something really big – I have more to learn – more to find – and we’re allowed to push on down here. I have so many better and bigger things to achieve here.
“We work with the local farmers – they see how passionate we are about what we do – and they see our success and they want to be part of that – they are doing an amazing job for us – they don’t make a lot of money but they are sharing our goals and dreams – and that makes such a difference – when the passionate people come together – something happens – we work with the people who understand what we are trying to do – and we have lots of people here who share the same passion for where we are going.”
And back home. What do they think?
“My family hasn’t been over yet – they see I have done well and they are very proud – they are proud to see me come to another country and do well – but this is my country now – Ireland is my second home – it feels like home.”
The last Sultan fled from Turkey in 1922. As here, over there. Nations rising tumultuously. Empires floundering. A Turkish chef brings forth a small history forgotten or never noticed. A connection made.
There probably already are letters being written in thanks for the Turk who has come our way. We are fed anew. So history turns. From a great hunger to a joyful celebration. History rarely rhymes but it does possess a meter and rhythm that is persistent. We must eat. We must be grateful that we can. Perhaps this is what the great chefs seek to show us. Here is what is hiding in your fields and seas. Here is revealed what was not before.
In West Cork, it is not uncommon for the traveller to come and show us where we are or what is here. And we marvel at ourselves with no little gratitude. Is this what this island tastes like? Wow.
Ahmet Dede. A traveller under stars. One of ours now by the Atlantic sea in Baltimore.