How a Top Paris Chef Cooks at Home


THE LIVELY MODERN elegance of Mory Sacko’s cooking is an apt expression of the tall, willowy chef himself. “I’m a Frenchman of African origins who’s fascinated by Japan,” said Mr. Sacko, 28, on a Saturday morning in the all-white dining room of Mosuke, his restaurant in Paris’s Montparnasse neighborhood. With pandemic precautions in mind, he preferred to meet there rather than in his apartment upstairs.

Despite the wilting impact of Covid-19 on the restaurant business in the French capital, Mosuke has been booked solid since it opened on Sept. 15. The amiable Mr. Sacko became well known as a contestant on the popular French version of the cooking show “Top Chef.”

Mory Sacko at Mosuke, in Montparnasse.



Photo:

Alfredo Piola for The Wall Street Journal

His parents emigrated from Mali to France, where he was born. “My Mom’s Malian, but she’s also lived in the Ivory Coast and Senegal, so she knows a lot about West African cooking. She’s a great cook, too,” he said with evident pride. As sous-chef to Thierry Marx at the Michelin two-star Sur Mesure, in the Mandarin Oriental, Paris, Mr. Sacko discovered the ingredients and techniques of Japan. “I fell in love with the aesthetics of Japanese cooking, its perfectionism, its cult of the best produce and its flavors,” he said.

At Mosuke, these influences converge in dishes like Brittany sole seasoned with shichimi togarashi (a Japanese spice mix), cooked inside a banana-leaf wrapping. “I would never describe my food as fusion, a term I dislike because it often represents a confused muddling,” he said. “I try and create harmony in every dish.” Just before the lunch rush, he paused to translate that philosophy into practical terms for home cooks.

Mr. Sacko preps herbs.



Photo:

Alfredo Piola for The Wall Street Journal

The kitchen tools I can’t live without are: a mortar and pestle, which is very African. Grinding spices in this way diffuses their taste and gives food some bite with their coarser texture.

The pan that I reach for most is: my wok. I have one in my little kitchen upstairs [in the apartment above the restaurant], and there are several in my restaurant kitchen downstairs. They sear ingredients perfectly, and the heat they produce cooks quickly without destroying the flavors.

The ingredient I’m most excited about right now is: Japanese black rice vinegar. It’s aged in casks, and it has a complex, aromatic, slightly smoky taste. I add it to a beurre blanc sauce for deeper flavor.

A favorite brand of black rice vinegar.



Photo:

Alfredo Piola for The Wall Street Journal

The music I listen to while cooking is: rap, including musicians like the American Kendrick Lamar. It gives me energy.

My favorite drinks are: white wine, especially Burgundies, and sake. I get my sake at the Workshop Issé in the rue Saint-Augustin. I’ve also recently discovered an amazing shiso-leaf liqueur—a perfect drink with dessert, because it’s so fresh and bright.

A food I could happily have everyday of my life is: yakitori, especially when it’s cooked on a real binchotan barbecue, which gives it such great flavor. I have one in my restaurant kitchen, and I use it all the time.

On weekends, I like to cook: Southeast Asian food, like shrimp in a coconut-milk curry, fried rice, pad thai and tom kha gai soup. I love the pungent flavors of this food.

When I travel, I like to eat: expansively. I haven’t really had the time or the money to travel very much, but when I can, I want to go to New York City, Los Angeles and Cape Town—to these places where cultures mix and overlap, and the people are receptive to originality. Paris is more open than it once was, but the anchor of French cooking is still terroir, that French reverence for tradition and produce from very specific places. The country that I most want to visit is Japan. Then again, as it exists in my head it’s perfect.

Basting sweet potatoes for Sweet Potatoes Pont Neuf.



Photo:

Alfredo Piola for The Wall Street Journal

If I hadn’t become a chef, I would probably be: a sculptor or a ceramicist. I really like transforming raw materials.

The most important piece of kitchen wisdom I ever received was: Be patient. This means following the cycle of the seasons in terms of produce—I only use ingredients when they’re in season and at their best—and also taking the time to make a dish right. And from my father: Respect everyone you meet and everyone you work with. In some kitchens, people have been surprised that as a chef I hang out with the African dishwashers. But their work is as important as mine. —Edited from an interview by Alexander Lobrano

This is a wonderful side dish for grilled or roast chicken, turkey, salmon, pork chops or vegetarian burgers.  

Alfredo Piola for The Wall Street Journal

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ cup sunflower or grapeseed oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon sansho pepper, or curry powder, paprika or pimentón de la Vera
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled
  • 4 ounces salted butter
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon Cajun seasoning mix

Directions

  1. Use an electric mixer or whisk to beat together egg and oil in a mixing bowl to form a thick mayonnaise. Stir in sansho pepper with a wooden spoon. Set aside.
  2. Slice sweet potato into batons 4 inches long by ½ inch wide. In a medium sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat, then add butter. Once butter has melted, add sweet potatoes and cook, undisturbed, until browned on one side, 5 minutes. Add water and Cajun seasoning mix. Continue cooking until all water has evaporated and potatoes are tender.
  3. Plate with a spatula and garnish each serving of potatoes with a soup spoon of mayonnaise on the side for dipping.

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