Creative and talented... it was little surprise that Mory Sacko became a firm favourite during France's 11th season of Top Chef. Trained by Thierry Marx at the Mandarin Oriental, the 27-year-old chef went on the show with one ambition: to "seek confirmation" that he was going in the right direction with his cuisine full of contrasts.
The young chef would get his confirmation from some of the biggest names in the industry, starting with his brigade chief, chef Paul Pairet, but also Laurent Petit, during a test where the vegetable became the main element of the plate, and the fish a simple condiment. "When a three-star chef like him tells you that what you have done is intelligent, it's a significant boost," he tells us.
Mory Sacko will open his first restaurant, Mosuke, in Paris this September. The young chef told us more about his ambitions for his new restaurant, plus some of the highlights of competing on Top Chef.
Where does the name of your future restaurant, Mosuke, come from?
'Mo' is from my first name Mory, and 'Suke' is a tribute to Yasuke, who is the first and only African Samurai to have existed in Japan. He was a slave until he met a lord who took him under his wing and raised him to the rank of samurai. When I learned of this story, I told myself that it was perfect for my restaurant.
Mosuke's menu will combine French, African and Japanese influences. But nowhere do you mention fusion cuisine...
I hate this term (laughs). I find this word very reductive, it removes many nuances from what I want to do. I want each culture to accompany the other without distorting it. There isn't a logic to mixing everything. My approach is a product, a seasoning, a technique... I can, for example, cook a Breton sole with Japanese seasoning, cooked in a banana leaf; prepare a yassa chicken as in West Africa, but with French yellow poultry, Roscoff onions, Camargue rice, and twist it all with Japanese citrus, like yuzu, to bring a new aromatic palette. It would be a job to serve the African recipe without distorting it.
African cuisine is a very large playground.
Yes, and that's what makes it so exciting. I am at the very start of something that could be fantastic. I am of Malian origin so I know West African cuisine well, but I also have many friends from Central Africa, and my palate recognises the flavours from these countries. But every day, I discover a little more about the cuisine of this vast continent ... There are interesting things everywhere. French, Greek and Swedish cuisines are very different ... In Africa, it's the same. The cuisine in the Horn of Africa, for example, is very vegetal, naturally mixed with spices that come from India, among others, while that of South Africa is more like European cuisine. For someone researching unusual flavours, like me, Madagascar is also a great island. I want to discover all cultures, and customers will discover them at the same time as me, through my eyes.
Where does this passion for Japanese cuisine come from?
When I was very young, I loved manga - I have always loved it for that matter. My passion for Japan began with this, and each time I learned a little more about Japanese culture, I found a lot of connections with African culture. With my job, my interest homed in on Japanese cuisine. I tried to find out more about the use of ingredients, the dishes... I was going to go to Japan this summer but with the pandemic we are going through, it will be for next year. But in Paris we are lucky to be able to sample all the cuisines of the world without moving, and in the Mandarin Oriental team there were a lot of Japanese. It allowed me to acquire a lot of knowledge of techniques.
A lockdown period during the coronavirus pandemic pushed Mosuke's opening back. How did you take advantage of this period?
I took the opportunity to refine the project, not only the dishes but also the financial forecasts because we all know that the recovery in September will be slower than expected. I also took advantage of this period to recharge my batteries, rest, read ... When you are a restaurateur, you have little time for yourself, so it did me good.
What did the Top Chef show give you?
When you make a show like Top Chef, it's not to acquire technical skills. You must have them before arriving. On the other hand, I made progress in my way of thinking about my cooking. Every day, we had great chefs who tasted our dishes and had a lot of points of comparison and reflection. Before, when I thought about plating, for example, I wanted it to be pretty. Today, I wonder how to place each condiment to influence the taste of the plate.
Also, the show gave me a huge self-confidence boost. I arrived with a culinary identity that was unique to me, even if it still needs to be refined, and I was looking for confirmation that I was going in the right direction. And obviously I am.
What's your long-term professional dream?
If you'd asked me that three years ago, I would have said: "to open my restaurant". If we look even further, I would say that winning a star is a clear objective. Also, I don't want Mosuke just to be a trendy restaurant, I really want it to become a permanent fixture in the gastronomic landscape.
And if we look even further ahead, one day I would like to open a restaurant abroad, in another 10 or 15 years.
Mosuke, 11 rue Raymond Losserand, 75014 Paris. Opening in September 2020.