Ebru Baybara Demir, a chef based in Mardin, Turkey, embodies a culinary journey that extends far beyond the art of cooking. Managing her restaurant, reviving ancient grains, and catering events beyond borders, she connects communities, including Syrian refugees, in a city steeped in diverse history.
Demir‘s culinary journey began by chance. When a group of tourists spurned the only restaurant in Mardin, she invited them to her aunt‘s home, sparking a lively communal dining experience. This encounter sparked a movement in which Demir got 21 unemployed women to open their homes to tour groups, which eventually culminated in the establishment of her restaurant, Cercis Murat Konaği. The restaurant injected much-needed economic vitality into an area grappling with high unemployment rates and inspired others in the community to open similar ventures, contributing to Mardin‘s tourism, which skyrocketed from a few thousand visitors annually to several million.
Beyond her restaurant‘s commercial success, Demir delved into social gastronomy. In response to the Syrian war‘s impact on Mardin, she started to train locals and refugees in culinary arts, fostering unity and economic stability. Subsequently, she established an agricultural co-op engaging in diverse food production endeavors, from mushroom cultivation to soap-making. During the aftermath of the earthquakes in southern Turkey she started operating „soul kitchens“ that for six months straight prepared tens of thousands top-notch quality meals for disaster survivors.
Through her various initiatives she has made a huge contribution to the emancipation and empowerment of women in Mardin, evolving from a patriarchal culture to one of newfound opportunity and independence.
Her exceptional efforts in empowering women in gastronomy earned her the 2023 Basque Culinary World prize. With the prize money, Demir plans to open a cafe managed by Turkish and Syrian chefs, redirecting profits to sustain soul kitchen operations, which now provide meals to schoolchildren.