By Léo Pajon
African chefs have been sidelined for a long time. But a new, inventive and talented generation from the continent is making a bigger name for itself in the prestigious French culinary guide.
South Africa’s Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen was the first African chef to win a Michelin star. He won the honour in 2016 for his restaurant Jan in the French city of Nice.
And now there is another rising star in the culinary world, and his name is Mory Sacko.
When we met him last year, he made no secret of his desire to win a Michelin star. Sacko, a French citizen of Malian origin and former second in command to chef Thierry Marx, has become extremely popular since his appearance on the cooking show Top Chef. He explained that being distinguished by Michelin was “an assumed objective, not an obsession”.
His perseverance enabled him to reach his goal in record time. Opened only a few months ago, his Parisian restaurant in the 14th arrondissement MoSuke received its first star, and the 28-year-old chef was named Young Chef of the Year 2021 alongside Coline Faulquier (of the Signature restaurant in Marseille).
The achievement is all the more important as until now, the African diaspora had very little representation in the French guide. By moving away from traditional dishes, the new generation is finally making a place for itself between its pages.
Sacko relies on ingredients and cooking methods inspired by what he has observed in his family and the cuisine of the diaspora, which he then fuses with other flavours and practices, notably from Asia. The end result are his cosmopolitan dishes, such as his Bresse chicken yassa with yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit.Africa InsightWake up to the essential with the Editor’s picks. Sign upAlso receive offers from The Africa ReportAlso receive offers from The Africa Report’s partners
Among the other good news in the 2021 Michelin Guide include Mi Kwabo – a favourite of ours last September – who won the Michelin Plate that is awarded to high-quality establishments.
That is a big honour for Elis Bond, who was born in Cayenne to Haitain parents. He is 28 years-old and is a self-taught chef who opened up a small restaurant in the Pigalle area of Paris a year ago. It was his wife Vanessa who introduced him to Beninese cuisine, where her family is from originally.
They both wanted to prove that African and Caribbean dishes could be refined to become a part of the world of fine dining. And they’ve done it! For instance, when he prepares small dried shrimps sprinkled with Penja pepper (from a region of Cameroon famous for its pepper), he also mixes in half-salted Breton butter.
Finally, the only new three-star chef in this edition, Alexandre Mazzia – who runs the AM restaurant in Marseille – also has African origins! Mazzia was born and spent 14 years in Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo, where his father worked in the tropical wood trade.
Although he was long infatuated by the scent of grilled fish and smoked papaya, he is now a big fan of roasting and loves cooking with the peppers and spices of his native continent. He is said to cook with more than 200 spices, many of which are little known in France.
It is important to note that, despite these people being celebrated, no purely African restaurant appears in the Michelin Guide. Moreover, “The world’s 50 best restaurants” list only mentions two African restaurants : The Test Kitchen and La Colombe, both in South Africa. It is proof that African cuisine is still off the radar of international award committees.