In a year that saw most restaurants around the world for largely shuttered because of Covid 19 restrictions, Tuesday night's online Michelin awards ceremony, hosted by Davina McCall, was a joyous celebratory sprinkling of stardust on the restaurant industry, a sector that has suffered more than almost any other during rolling lockdowns, with emotional responses from many of the awarded chefs as they retained or were even awarded new Michelin stars.
All 17 Irish Michelin-starred restaurants (and the three in Northern Ireland) held on to their stars but the only new Irish star was awarded to Dede at the Customs House, in Baltimore, in West, Cork where Ahmet Dede, along with co-proprietor Maria Archer, had to delay the planned opening launch of their new restaurant last March, instead, operating as a takeaway and deli food shop throughout the first lockdown until re-opening at the beginning of July last summer.
And, after a year which Dede described to the Irish Examiner last year as the ‘most difficult year of his life’, this accolade is particularly treasured and there is no mistaking his delight as he whoops down the phone from Kusadasi, in South West Turkey, where he is currently at home with his parents.
“I’m so happy and so is Maria [Archer], she is so proud, so happy, over the moon. It is a great, great achievement, especially after the last year.”
Throughout last summer’s re-opening, Dede’s restaurant delivered a more casual, simplified menu than his more usual multi-course tasting menu that previously earned him a Michelin Star as head chef in the now closed Mews Restaurant, also in Baltimore, and had temporarily shelved Michelin Star ambitions for his new restaurant but just before Christmas, the Michelin Inspector called.
“He came just before Christmas lockdown, very professional, didn’t say who he was but stayed with us for four hours, he was delighted and so happy. He had the tasting menu, the format was slightly different than summer. One of the snacks was lobster kebab and he said he could have had ten of them. I’m going to have it on the menu for sure, it has already become a signature dish for us.
“I didn’t know if one visit would be enough but they know me from the past. It’s different what we do now, more casual, very informal, not very expensive and I won’t increase prices this year. We didn’t need all the fussy stuff to achieve this, it’s what makes me most proud.”
Last summer, Dede’s aunt and uncle, his mother’s sister and brother, both died of Covid-19 within ten days of each other. Shortly after, his father wound up in ICU, also with Covid 19, the family told he wouldn’t survive. Meanwhile his mother had too been diagnosed but didn’t tell her three sons [Dede’s two brothers run their own restaurant in Holland] lest they risk their own health by travelling back to Turkey.
Dede instead remained in Baltimore, saying to this writer in the Irish Examiner just a couple of months later, ‘I didn’t want to do anything else, just be with her. It was very, very difficult, I was broken for weeks after but the cooking actually saved me and still does, kept my mind busy, I forgot for a few hours.’
“I’m at home right now with Mum and Dad, she’s preparing a meal, it is just the best being with them and they are all very healthy. Spending time with them is so amazing, I had been so worried. They are like celebrities themselves since the announcement. All the Turkish newspapers are contacting them. The Turkish press is really excited about it as well and everyone is calling my parents.”
Dede will return to Baltimore at the end of February and, after quarantining, will plan the restaurant’s next move depending on restrictions: “I’m flexible—the star is amazing but we will see what we can do, whether it is to be a shop, a takeaway or outdoor dining in the courtyard or even indoor.
“I am an ambitious guy—there’s another two stars to chase–but this one is very special, it is more personal for me the little team I had, it creates a really nice energy now. It is about dedication to your business, not giving up, especially after last year. We have a lot to do now, I’m so excited for the coming year, come back to Baltimore, do my quarantine and then we go again!”