Cooking in Yiayia’s kitchen
Helen Dedes is an AGL customer and features in our latest TV commercial. She shares her journey from Greek immigrant and former restauranteur to social media sensation.
Guided by two forces – a love of her family and food – Dedes, now 72, has made the journey from Greek immigrant to setting the foundations for one of Sydney’s most renowned restaurant chains, the Dedes Waterfront Group. She’s done all this while raising two kids, spoiling her grandkids and creating a strong social media presence through Yiayias Greek Kitchen. “And all this because I love to cook,” she says.
It’s been a long and unlikely path for Dedes, who was born on the remote Greek island of Lesbos in the north Aegean Sea. “My mum inspired my love of food,” says Dedes. “She was an excellent cook. When I was young, I was always expected to work around the house, and most of the time, that meant cooking dinner.”
Her mother instilled in Dedes the spirit of Mediterranean cooking: fresh produce, prepared with love. So, when she and her husband Stavros immigrated to Australia in 1967, penniless and unable to speak the language, opening a restaurant seemed like a natural choice. “I had two kids by this point, Con and Christine, and we were in the kitchen all the time,” says Dedes. “It was very hard, but we made it work.”
Over the following decades, all that hard work helped build a family, a business and a loyal, devoted following. And for the Dedes Waterfront Group, one restaurant became two, then three, then four. Yet for all that success, the kitchen is the only place Dedes has ever wanted to be – whether it’s cooking for customers or her growing family.
"Greeks show their love with food," says Dedes. "Food means coming together. I love cooking, and I love my family, so food is my way of keeping our culture strong."
A few years ago, Dedes retired and handed over the reins of the Dedes Group to her son, Con. “That was my proudest moment,” says Dedes. “Family is everything to us. I’m just so happy to see him taking on my passion for food and making people smile and be happy.”
You can see that passion in her YouTube video series, Yiayias Greek Kitchen, where Dedes’ showcases traditional Greek recipes and songs. “That was my granddaughter Ellen’s idea,” says Dedes. “But I love it. I get to be myself, share my favourite recipes and sing, which I love almost as much as cooking.” (In her youth, Dedes was a popular performer at Sydney’s Greek clubs.)
While the channel has been on hiatus due to some health issues – Dedes had a heart attack in 2015 – she’s bringing it back this year. “Thousands of people watched those videos. My fans miss me!” she laughs.
Looking back on everything she’s accomplished, Dedes reckons there’s no great secret to her success. “I’ve always believed that when you start something you must keep doing it and finish it properly,” she says.
"Whether it's business or family, you can't just do the one thing and say that's enough. You have to keep moving: to do more, to be better. That's progress."
Check out our Yiayia cooking sensation, Helen, in AGL’s latest TV campaign.
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