Chef Mory Sacko: “The palaces are ready to welcome a cuisine like mine in France” | Restaurants

In a small house on a quiet residential street in southern Paris, a tiny restaurant seating just 28 has become France’s most sought-after dining experience.

When the revamped MoSuke restaurant reopens next week, offering unique West and Central African dishes reinterpreted with a French and Japanese twist, it will already be sold out for months – filling up less than two hours after reservations opened. Its clientele of all ages and walks of life is more diverse than the classic Parisian restaurant scene and it has been described as a gastronomic revolution in France.

“Cuisine is the reflection of a society,” says its starred chef, Mory Sacko, who at the age of 28 won the first French Michelin star for West and Central African cuisine. “French society is changing. There are many young people like me who are French but who have different origins and who are proud of it… The palates are ready, the mentalities are ready, to welcome a cuisine like mine in France.

Sacko, now 30, is currently France’s most celebrated chef – hailed not only for his daring combinations of local French produce with African recipes and Japanese seasonings, but described by food writers as “better than ‘a politician’ to promote inclusivity in French culture and cuisine. Emmanuel Macron called on him to cook for an important Africa-France summit.

President Emmanuel Macron with Sacko before a dinner at the New Africa-France summit in Montpellier in October 2021. Photograph: Daniel Cole/AFP/Getty Images

During the Covid pandemic in 2020, Sacko became a household name by taking part in France’s favorite TV cooking competition, Top Chef, which drew millions of viewers in lockdown. He didn’t win but became very popular not only for his experimental dishes but, above all, for his gentle and human attitude in the kitchen – the opposite of the stereotypical screaming chef of old – as well as for his background. Sacko grew up with his Malian parents, a builder and cleaner, in a family of nine children in a public housing project in Seine-et-Marne, east of Paris. At 14, he began training at hotel school and worked as a chef in several of the best hotel restaurants in Paris.

Sacko used his TV fame to open his restaurant, MoSuke, named after Yasuke, a former slave who became Japan’s first black samurai. The menu subtly blends three influences: the classic West and Central African recipes cooked by his mother as a child, his personal interest in Japanese cuisine, which began with his childhood love of Manga, and his very classic training in French chef. His dishes have included Breton sole with attiékécassava semolina, fermented with natural acidity “that we eat on the sidewalk or in bars in Côte d’Ivoire”, as well as new interpretations of traditional West African chicken he said or old-fashioned beef the right sauce.

He sees a new interest in West African and Central African gastronomy in France. “There is change, there is real curiosity, people want to try more. This cuisine has always faced many prejudices and I sincerely believe that these prejudices are now very, very far away. In Paris, people no longer arrive saying that West African cuisine is greasy and rich, but they are very curious to discover the spices and the recipes”.

Winning the first Michelin star in France for West and Central African cuisine in 2021 was crucial for him. “It’s good to be the first, but I hope I won’t be the only one. It’s important because when I was in hotel school, I didn’t see Michelin starred chefs who looked like me, there weren’t any. I ate African food when I was a kid so I knew it was good, that wasn’t the problem. But it lacked the figureheads to deliver it in a way that appeals to foodie guides and more Western palates. Finally, we’re breaking a glass ceiling and hopefully showing young people that star cuisine doesn’t have to be European or Asian.

Sacko on his TV show Open Kitchen
Sacko on his TV show Open Kitchen Photography: FTV

For Sacko, French haute cuisine is a rare arena in France that gives equal opportunity regardless of race or origin. His own team at MoSuke is young — in their twenties — and diverse.

“People often ask me about racism, because I’ve worked in big hotels since I was very young, and I say no, in the kitchen, the only thing the chef looks at is if you’re good or No. Black, Asian or white, what matters is your job.

Sacko promotes what he calls a “conversation” between cultures, but hates the term “fusion foods.” He says, “It’s a barbaric concept suggesting that if someone mixes up African and Japanese, it must mean sushi with African sauce, which is absolutely not what we do. It’s not forced, it’s a dialogue, an exchange… It can be adding an ingredient or a technique. For the the right sauce, I make a classic recipe like my mother would and at the very end I add miso for seasoning, but the miso is not there to say ‘There, I put something Japanese in it!’ It brings its aromatic complexity – salty, but different from simple fine salt. So the Japanese product works in the service of the African recipe and magnifies it.

Sacko continues to be a television star in France with his series, Cuisine Ouverte, where he travels through French regions, celebrating local ingredients and recreating classic dishes in a heritage context. It also has a street food restaurant, Mosugo, with its own twist on burgers.

He lives above the Mosuke Restaurant and is always in the kitchen for every service, greeting diners at their table. The long-awaited redesign of the restaurant was not just about expanding the kitchen, but about making the simple decor more cozy.

“I really want to welcome people and feed them here like I would at home,” he says. “It’s all about warmth, we don’t want anything cold or clinical on the ward.”

Feeding diners is something deeply personal, he adds. “Cooking is above all a personal story, that’s what I try to do: tell my story and convey emotions through my dishes.”

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