Chef's Michelin joy tinged with sadness at family's virus toll

As he wiped his eyes and told viewers at the virtual event that the award meant so much to him, few could have realised the secret heartache behind those tears.
Chef's Michelin joy tinged with sadness at family's virus toll

Both of Ahmet Dede's parents had been struck down by Covid-19, and still suffer from its effects to this day, File picture.

When Ahmet Dede cried during his brief online Michelin Star acceptance speech on Monday, the tears could well have been mistaken for just an outpouring of joy.

The 34-year-old former waiter had, after all, earned the coveted award for his Baltimore restaurant Dede despite opening and running it as a restaurant and a takeaway during a pandemic.

Added to that, this was also the second time the Turkish chef has won a Michelin Star, with the first being in 2018 at the now-closed Mews Restaurant, also in the west Cork seaside town.

But as he wiped his eyes and told viewers at the virtual event that the award meant so much to him, few could have realised the secret heartache behind those tears.

The few who not only knew about his secret anguish but shared it, were actually sitting opposite him out of the view of his webcam.

They included his father Huseyin, 64, and mother Cennet, 62.

While both had been struck down by Covid-19, and still suffer from its effects to this day, Ahmet lost his uncle Ramazan Kaynak and aunt Gultus Kaynak to the deadly virus.

“This star was more special than the first one because it was more personal this time around,” he told the Irish Examiner, speaking from his parent's house in the Aegean resort of Kusadası, on Turkey’s southwestern coast.

“This is partly because this time it is my own place which I run with my business partner Maria Archer and we have been through such a tough year. 

It has been a really tough year in terms of family and friends.

“Covid has damaged my family. I lost an uncle and an aunt, my mum’s brother, and sister - they died in the same week last September."

He said his father was very sick a few days after his aunt died, and then his mother contracted the virus. Both were very sick but he could not take care of them. 

“My father, who is a diabetic, was in intensive care for 10 days. My mother had it at the same time but didn’t tell anybody. She went through it on her own, alone in her house.”

Ahmet, who first studied cookery on an eight-week Fáilte Ireland course in 2009, added: “So when I got emotional on the video, my mum, my father, and my brother were around me sitting on the table. Everything at that moment just flashed in my mind.

“All the things they sacrificed for us, the delays in me not being able to see them when they were very sick - these were my emotions at that moment. I dedicated the star to them.”

Starting out

Before Ahmet first came to Ireland in 2009, his only experience of working in a restaurant was working as a waiter and barman in one of his uncle's restaurants back home in Turkey.

"I was always interested in cooking," he recalled. "I learned a lot from my mother."

It wasn't until he was about 25 that he decided he might go into cooking, and it almost happened by accident.

Married in 2008 to an Irish woman, he came to Ireland the following year and it was while he was in one of the former FÁS offices in Dublin that he spotted a Fáilte Ireland leaflet advertising an eight-week training course.

He did it and this led to studies in DIT in Dublin before he was offered positions in some of Ireland's top restaurants, as well as in Europe - including Moshik's Place in Amsterdam.

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