In a small house on a quiet residential street in southern Paris, a tiny restaurant with only 28 covers has become the most sought-after eating experience in France.
When the redesigned MoSuke restaurant reopens next week, boasting unique west and central African dishes re-interpreted with a French and Japanese twist, it will already be fully booked for months – filling up less than two hours after reservations opened. Its clientele of all ages and backgrounds is more diverse than the classic Paris restaurant scene and it has been described as a fine-dining revolution in France.
“Food is the reflection of a society,” says its star chef, Mory Sacko, who at 28 won France’s first ever Michelin star for west and central African cuisine. “French society is evolving. There are lots of young people like me who are French but who have different origins and are proud of it … Palates are ready, mentalities are ready, to welcome a cuisine like mine in France.”
Sacko, now 30, is currently France’s most famous chef – hailed not just for his daring combinations of French local produce with African recipes and Japanese seasoning, but described by food writers as “better than a politician” for promoting inclusivity in French culture and cuisine. Emmanuel Macron has called on him to cook for an important Africa-France summit.
During the Covid pandemic in 2020, Sacko became a household name competing in France’s favourite TV cooking contest, Top Chef, which drew millions of lockdown viewers. He didn’t win but became wildly popular not only for his experimental dishes but, crucially, his gentle, humane attitude in the kitchen – the opposite of the stereotypical shouty chef of old – as well as his background. Sacko grew up with his Malian parents, a builder and a cleaner, in a family of nine children in social housing in Seine-et-Marne, east of Paris. At 14, he began training at hotel school and worked as a chef in several of Paris’s finest hotel restaurants.
Sacko used his lockdown TV fame to open his restaurant, MoSuke, named in homage to Yasuke, a former slave who became the first Black samurai in Japan. The menu subtly combines three influences – the west and central African classic recipes cooked by his mother in his childhood, his personal interest in Japanese food, which began with his love of Manga as a child, and his very classical French chef’s training. His dishes have included Breton sole with attiéké, a cassava semolina, fermented with natural acidity “that people eat on the pavement or in bars in Ivory Coast”, as well as new interpretations of traditional west African chicken yassa or beef in traditional mafé sauce.
He sees a new interest in west African and central African gastronomy in France. “There’s change, there’s real curiosity, people want to try more. This cuisine had always faced a lot of prejudice and I honestly feel those prejudices are now very, very far away. In Paris, people no longer arrive saying west African cooking is greasy and rich, instead they’re very curious to discover the spices and recipes”.
Winning the first Michelin star in France for west and central African food in 2021 was crucial to him. “It’s nice to be the first, but I hope I won’t be the only one. It’s important because when I was at hotel school, I didn’t see any starred Michelin chefs who looked like me, there weren’t any. I ate African cuisine as a child so I knew it was good, that wasn’t the issue. But it lacked figureheads to offer it in a way that pleased the restaurant guides and more western palates. Finally, we’re breaking a glass ceiling and I hope it will show young people that starred cuisine doesn’t have to be European or Asian.”
For Sacko, French haute cuisine is a rare arena in France that gives equal opportunities regardless of race or background. His own team at MoSuke is young – in their 20s – and diverse.
“People often ask me about racism, because I worked in top hotels from very young, and I say, no, in the kitchen the only thing looked at by the chef is whether you’re good or not. Black, Asian or white, what counts is your work.”
Sacko promotes what he calls a “conversation” between cultures, but hates the term “fusion” food. He says: “That’s a barbaric concept suggesting that if anyone blends African and Japanese, it must mean sushi with an African sauce, which is absolutely not what we do. It’s not forced, it’s about a dialogue, and exchange … It might mean adding one ingredient or technique. For the mafé sauce, I do a classic recipe like my mum would do and at the very, very end add miso to season, but the miso isn’t there to say ‘Voilà, I’ve put something Japanese in!’ It brings its aromatic complexity – salt, but different to simply fine salt. So the Japanese product works in service of the African recipe and magnifies it.”
Sacko continues to be a TV star in France with his series, Cuisine Ouverte, where he travels around French regions, celebrating local ingredients and recreating classic dishes against heritage backdrops. He also has a street food restaurant, Mosugo, with his own twist on burgers.
He lives above the Mosuke restaurant and is always in the kitchen cooking for every service, greeting diners at their table. The eagerly awaited restaurant redesign was not just to expand the kitchen, but to make the simple decor more cosy.
“I really want to welcome people and feed them here as I would at home,” he says. “It’s all about warmth, we don’t want anything cold or clinical in the service.”
Feeding diners is something deeply personal, he ads. “Cooking is all about your personal story, that’s what I try to do – tell my story and pass on emotions through my dishes.”