The First Michelin Star of Turkish Cuisine

It is even exciting to imagine Turkish spice smells mixed with the iodine and forest scents of a small Irish town hidden on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. This unique experience will have deeply affected the Michelin inspectors that Ahmet Dede has became first chef in the world to receive Michelin with concept of Turkish cuisine. The flavors are created by the chef which are evolved towards Irish culture and world cuisine with artistic touch, has became pride of not only us, but also Ireland.  We have a delicious interview with Ahmet Dede.

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Baltimore is a small fishing town on the edge of Atlantic Ocean with 400 inhabitants.  Ahmet Dede is in love with this small town and he says :“ We are at the end of Ireland. Ahead, Ocean and America.” Ahmet Dede who made it a principle shopping only from local produders and fishermans, sailing with fishermans,  picking grass on the mountain, was adopted by villagers in a short time.  Chef Ahmet Dede is very happy to bring a new taste to Baltimore which he calls “home” with his restaurant named Dede. His story that brought him and Turkish cuisine Michelin is breathtaking.

How did you come to Baltimore?

I went to Baltimore village as head chef of Mews restaurant in 2017. Mews was a restaurant that open for six months and closed for six months. I was cooking a tasting menu of 17-18 plates. We got our Michelin star in 2018. We kept it in 2019, but the restaurant closed because of problems about structure. Some offers came, some opportunities came out but, my heart wan in the that village. I shouldn’t have left there. Hovewer, I didn’t want to work with an investor; I wanted to be free and set up my kitchen.

I think, you have established a fish-based cuisine by guessing that Baltimore is very rich in this respect...

Surely. There are most beautiful of the fish, lobster, oyster and clam. I only shop by local producers, it has never changed. I don’t mean Ireland either, I work only with 50-55 farmers and 7-8 fishermen from Westcorth area where the village is located. We get very busy in summer, but sometimes I go out fishing them like April-May or towards end of the year.

Where have you been before Mews?

I went to Ireland, when I was 25. I have decided to be a chef there, and attended a course. Who am I today? My identity has shaped in Ireland. Ireland has given me a lot, but I have had different experiences as well. I have worked in two Michelin star restaurant  in the Netherlands, in 2012-13 and then a three Michelin star restaurant in Norway. I came back to Ireland with Mews in 2017, my beloved Baltimore. Both Turkey and Ireland my homeland.

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What is the story of Dede?

We have met my partner Maria Archer at Mews. She had an internship experience with me. She was from advertising sectory, but she wanted to do a restaurant business in Baltimore. We have decided to manage the beautiful place that she bought with the kitchen which I would set up freely, in 2019. I spent two months end of 2019 in Turkey. I have sent spices, tarhana, pickled grape leaves, dried peppers, tomato paste, cranberry extract, black mulberry extract and olive oil to Ireland for a year. I set up a team with three young talented chef from Turkey. We got visas for all three, but only one of them could come because of pandemic. We were going to open on March 16, 2020, it didn’t. I set out to open the restaurant with Turkish concept and get the Michelin star in the first year. I knew that what I was doing. Surely,the plan has changed because of Covid19.

How did you adopt to pandemic process?

We have started with “take – away”. We offered a variety of tastes with ingredient from Turkey, and likes a lot. We have started to serve two days a week, immediatelt went up to four days. “Take-away” system has relieved us mentally. People would dress as if they were going out to dinner, put on make-up and take their meals. They were setting up dinner table at home, taking videos and photos and posting them on social media. I have started to feel good. And then, after two weeks, we started to bakery! During the day, we were solding breads, pies, cookies, bagels and tahini buns. Actually, I liked it. I would never have thougth that I did such things. If there was not pandemic conditions, I would say ” You are a Michelin star chef, you have a standart” and cook such tastes at home; but thanks to this, people have tasted flavors that they have never known. I used to put molasses and cream on Turkish bagel. How they loved it… It was like this, until June- July. We had a wonderful summer, when restaurants reopened. Both we and our customers were excited… We made renovation which normally we planned for end of winter, because we have earned good money. I closed our terrace and built a Turkish type black oven. We created different a warm enviroment with the sheepskin chairs and stoves. However, 1.5 hours of seating time were given only 15 people, we prepared a menu according to this limitation. Actually, I got bored because I couldn’t maket the menu I wanted. We close again in September, and reopened at the end of November. We were two in the kitchen; Çağan and me. I said that “We will close anyway. Let me make a nice menu and feel good. Let me, stimulate my creativity. This time, we worked at full capacity for three weeks with a menu as I imagined. We were open four days a week and focused on only dinner.

” Turkish born chef Ahmet Dede has made himself at home in the coastal town of Baltimore and the town and its people have in turn taken him to their hearts. Dede has a reliable local supply network and friends. Original dishes made by low waste approach are interpreted by Dede’s Turkish past. The supremely talented chef Ahmet Dede shares his Turkish heritage with the lucky people of Baltimore.”

Michelin Guide

When did Michelin inspector come and you get star?

He just came in this three week. They come unannounced but I understood from reservation. It is an occupational disease in us; since I have worked 5 Michelin star restaurants before, I collected of most of e-mail adresses and reservation names. I have also recognized the email address of of that reservation which arrived at end of November 2020.

Actually, process is more complicated. I know procodure where I got first Michelin. First, you have become a prestige restaurant. Your criticals are published etc. The Michelin team folows them. Finally, he comes like a customer, eats his meal and pays bill. Theni he introduces himself and gets some informations. He wants to know if you are permanent there and you have a consistent personality. Michelin does not want to invest in a restaurant that will close immediately. At Mews, I have told the inspector who introduce himself after dinner, ” I was waiting for you, too.” We laughed well. After three or four weeks, one or two inspectors come to decide. If there is a rapport between two inspector reports, they are valued for the star. You can go up to two from zero, but it requires a large financial investement. Nobody has never  took three from the zero.

Michelin inspectors made appointment for three times before, but they couldn’t come because of pandemic. He managed to come in the fourth. But it was not a surprise, I knew that we would got it.

Of course, we are also curious about menu which inspector give Michelin star…

Ten course tasting menu from start to finish. We had lobster kebab with isot and sumac. Underneath,  a bread from the patatoes like lavash; it is a traditional Irish food from 95 percent of patatoes, 2.5 percent of flour, 2.5 percent of smoked butter. We were cooking lobster on skewers on the barbecue. Top with sumac, isot, limon, olive oil, yogurt and lemon peels. And a salad with wild aragula which we picked up. They were eating lobsters like kebab in skewers.

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We had a bisque style soup from head of the lobster, top with isot and lobster oil.We had homemade ravioli. We were making crispy from homemade yogurt, mint, roasted garlic, a magnificent tomato sauce, smoked burnt butter ,Turkish almond garlic on top of it. We used to caramelized butter, which we used to make that crispy, add pomegranate syrup and pour it on the table as a sauce.

We were serving our 24 hour fermented sourdough bread with the village’s magnificent butter and first cold pressed Turkish olive oil. We smoked wild ocean salmon, prepared a deep sauce by mixing our own labne and mayonnaise and smoke salmon with lemon rind. It was amazing with Urfa hot pepper and a glass of nice champagne.

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We also had a fish plate with pickled seaweed underneath, with ember paprika sauce; also brioche with seaweed. We also flavored the wild deer which my friend hunted with cardamom and black pepper. As the second presentation of the deer, we had another Adana kebab plate. With pickled onions and red cabbage on the top of the lavash.

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Then, hazelnut ice cream from Karadeniz and baklava with caramelized hazelnut sauce… Finally, lavender delight. We also have offered black sea tea which my mother sent saying that you can brew at home. We made a candy, there is a different flower, I’m collecting it. While drinking it, it suddenly explodes in mouth. It is amazing.

After all this, I can say that my first foreign travel destination will be Ireland. It was incredible even while listening. What are your plans in the short or long term?

Now, we have a house in Ireland. We are working on an online system to sell Turkish spcaes and gastronomy products. I will also preparing a book that includes recipes, but ostly explains the period between 2017-2020, up to Michelin.

I want to learn from different places personally. I’m stil at the apprenticeship stage. The road is long, I want to be a master, I have to study hard and learn more. I am sure that I will get the second star in two or three years.

On the restaurant side, I hope it will be allowed, and people will come and see what we are doing, I will exhibit my art and show. I love my restaurant very much; I also have a plan to open another restaurant in the same village. I imagine a small restaurant for 20 people with a great view. Like my workshop, it will be open for only dinner three or four days in a week. I want to bring Dede concept to this new restaurant. I will continue the current restaurant in a different style. Then, it will continue…

So, why do you think that we have not been able to introduce ourselves with this wonderful kitchen?

We have everything in terms of talent, material and background. The important thing how we bring all these together and present. We need the support of Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Tourism. A team of 15-20 people should be formed from the orginazers and chefs to a brainstorm. People who are devoted to promotion of their country such as Gökmen Süzen, Fatih Tuta, Maksut Aşkar, Musa Dağdeviren from Çiya, Osman Sezener from Od Urla should be used. Ministries should plan organizations, festivals with sponsored food companies. Turkish gastornomy should be introduced to the world. For example, why do we not have Turksh olive oil in Ireland, or England. Peopel taste our olive oil and they say: “I have never eat olive oil like this.” Personal accomplishments are like a breeze, but they are forgetten.  The state should support promotion of Turkish kitchen.

Kişisel başarılar hafif bir esinti olur ama unutulur gider. Bu işe kesinlikle devletin el atması gerekir.

What do you miss from Turkey?

Baklava, gözleme (pancake), bagel, yogurt, soup etc. we cook in the kitchen, but I would love to say to my team after working 16-17 hours, “ Guys, let me buy you kokoreç, let drink beer”. Then, I miss things like drinking rakı, while a man cooking on fireside; eating Ayvalık tost and drinking tea before getting on the ferry.