Roots

Serigne Mbaye Talks Senegalese Thieboudienne

By: Sunny Sequeira

Chef Serigne Mbaye combines an appreciation for food and history in his New Orleans pop-up Dakar Nola

Serigne Mbaye has achieved his dream. At 28 years old, he’s working at a restaurant “he’s wanted to work for for a very long time”–one he created himself. Dakar Nola serves Senegalese food inspired by the cuisine of New Orleans and his love for history. “I came to the realization that there’s no other restaurant in the world that does what I wanna do. So, therefore, I created Dakar Nola.” 

At Dakar Nola, Mbaye makes everything from shrimp and fonio grits to moringa cheesecake using a variety of techniques he’s picked up from a decade of restaurant experience. He wants to cook the way his mother did, noting her influence as a prior restaurant owner. With her making Senegalese food throughout his childhood and sharing it in intimate settings, Mbaye hoped to recreate that environment in his own way. 

thieboudienne rice from Serigne Mbaye
Thieboudienne from chef Serigne Mbaye

Thieboudienne is also close to Mbaye’s heart. The national dish of Senegal, it combines fish, jollof rice, vegetables, and tomato sauce for a warm and savory meal. Jollof rice, a dish created by a tribe in Senegal of the same name, “is what makes the dish popping,” claims Mbaye. Despite thieboudienne’s simplicity, Mbaye says, “it has a lot of story,” having reached several parts of the world because of slavery. Its variations have become known through other names in the South–such as jambalaya in Louisiana or hoppin’ john in South Carolina. At its core, however, Mbaye makes the dish to “tell the story of where I’m from and show how the dish evolved throughout the years.” 

Preparing thieboudienne is anything but simple. Mbaye learned from his mother that “if you can’t do it right, then don’t even bother,” which is why he starts on the dish at 8 a.m. for it to be ready by the afternoon. Everything is made in one pot, similar to how food was prepared while growing up. Flavor is ensured by working in layers, with seasoning added at every step of the cooking process. 

While Mbaye credits his time at Michelin-starred restaurants for techniques he’s learned and adapted to the foods he cooks, practices from home still resonate. “I think to build love, you need to have that one, maximum two, pots, and build that layer. It just takes time, but when it’s ready, everyone in the neighborhood knows that jollof is ready. Everyone can smell it. That’s what I do.”

Video by: Jonathan Boncek

Edits by: Jack McAlister

Production by: Maggie Ward

Location: Charleston Wine + Food

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