Mory Sacko, Michelin Starred Chef at 28: "I aim to be exemplary"
Mory Sacko is one of the French gourmet scene's rising stars, leading the charge of a new generation of chefs that are as passionate as they are socially aware. After standing out amongst the competition in Top Chef's 11th season, this young Parisian opened Mosuke and earned his first Michelin star no later than this past January. Considered one of the top five most promising chefs in the world according to La Liste, Mory Sacko has resolved to pursue his destiny with humility, and the megawatt smile of a person who knew he had it in him all along.
Printemps.com: Where does your passion for cooking come from?
MS: I thought about doing loads of different things when I was a kid, but not necessarily becoming a chef. Then when I was a teenager, I got really interested in luxury hotels, and the kitchen always seemed to me like the best part. I decided to really give it a go when I was 13 or 14, and I got a taste of all the creativity you get to employ as a chef. I loved it immediately. Since then I haven't stopped and every day at it is a real gift.
You've assisted great chefs and you worked in luxury hotels before coming on Top Chef. How did you respond to their expectations, especially given that they're known for being demanding?
It's a difficult world — it has its own style of organization and you need to learn how to anticipate things before they happen. You need to know how a hotel, a restaurant, a team, and even a hierarchy works. Over time it gets easier, but it's something you've got to be passionate about. Without passion it's difficult, because everyone is talented and ambitious. You can't take your eye off the ball and you always need to be "on."
You took home your first Michelin star last January. How did it feel?
It was a huge surprise. I'd gotten a call from the Michelin guide, who wanted to give me a "young chef" trophy. They told me to come get it at the Eiffel Tower, and I was already elated. Then, when I got to the set, I realized that the trophy was accompanied by a first star. I was so proud. My parents were beyond happy for me. They always pushed me to do what I love and to give it my all.
"In one month at Top Chef, I gained 5 years of experience."
What did you learn from Top Chef?
It really accelerated my career, from both a business and media standpoint. It also taught me to grow faster. There's no other situation in which you'd get to taste dishes from 15 internationally renowned chefs in the space of two months. Each time I tasted something, I understood that the essential was to learn to keep plates simple — and when you're a young chef, you tend to want to do too much. In a month and a half, I gained 5 years of experience.
You always seemed very at ease in front of the cameras.
Top Chef casts based on three major criteria: creativity, culinary talent, and personality. While we were filming, I got used to the cameras pretty quickly, and I think that came across. Today, I present a gourmet show on France 3 (called "Cuisine Ouverte,") and that's a very different exercise. I still have a lot to learn.
At your restaurant Mosuke, you offer this very open, international cuisine, with African, Japanese, and French influences. How was this fusion born?
"Mosuke" is a contraction of my first name and "Yasuke," who was the first and only African samurai in Japan. It's a beautiful story and I think it reflects the culinary identity of the restaurant, at a crossroads between France, Africa, and Japan. It's not the easiest kind of fusion, of course, but for me it feels natural. African cuisine was a part of my childhood and I've always loved Japanese culture, especially manga. I'm a really curious person, and so I got interested in Japanese cooking, their techniques and practices. So, when I finally was supposed to define my restaurant's identity, I decided not to choose and instead I reassembled these three distinct culinary cultures in my dishes. We were able to receive customers for sit-down meals for two months, and we were fully-booked the whole time. When the second lockdown was announced, we launched Mosugo (available via delivery and click & collect), which is an ephemeral, street-food-based menu. It's been working really well!
Who are the chefs that inspire you?
I consider Thierry Marx to be my mentor — he's been an important figure in my life and has followed my work from the beginning. He's also a big lover of Japan, so we share that passion. I love his way of being, his values and his management style. He's also someone who rose through the ranks, and he was able to do that because of the quality of his work. I also really admire chefs like Ferran Adria and René Redzepi, who are these visionary creatives. I also really like Alain Passard and Pierre Gagnaire's work — they're both culinary geniuses and the inspiration is constant. Their approach is very cerebral, and I love when cuisine is thought-out, reflected-upon — when it means something.
What advice would you give young chefs who want to move their way up the chain?
I'd tell them not to get too worried about the current context, because people are always going to want to eat good food. The times are difficult, but they're temporary. I'd say to be patient: to take the time to establish a solid foundation to build upon and through which to get a better feel for their personality.
You're part of a new generation of chefs. Do you think that gastronomy is in the process of becoming more inclusive, diverse, and egalitarian?
Absolutely. There's a lot more diversity and in terms of gender parity, we're getting closer to a kind of balance. We as a generation also have different values. Until now, gastronomy was largely about being able to reproduce what older chefs taught us, and today people are really moving away from that model, breaking from it. Everyone's running their kitchen and their restaurant the way they want, with singular ways of doing things.
You also love fashion.
Yes, I love fashion. I can't help it. I love beautiful things and it's a world that's also steeped in creativity. Like in the kitchen, a brand or a designer expresses themselves through the collections and their shows. When you admire a show, you're admiring the product of teamwork and concept. It's similar to experiencing a chef's work.
What can we hope for you moving forward?
That I keep smiling. If I'm smiling, it means things are going just fine.