NEW ORLEANS—There are many reasons to celebrate black culture in the United States. One reason, is to show how Africa is one of the central ingredients in America’s story.
The majority of the West African enslaved that crossed the Atlantic Ocean came from the Senegambia region. As people were transported to the new world in servitude, plants and spices made their way from the Americas back to Europe and Africa in what was known as the Columbian Interchange in the 15th century. Yams and okra found their way to North and South America, as well the Caribbean. At the same time, chiles and tomatoes revolutionized European and African dishes. Dishes like Jollof rice were born.
Chef Serigne Mbaye says to think of Jolloff as a cousin to Jambalaya saying, “Jolloff comes from Wolof. Wolof is the native language in Senegal. Eventually the dish arrived here in the United States and it inspired the New Orleans dish known as Jambalaya. The concept is the same, with the balance of using acidity, spiciness, saltiness and tanginess.”
New Orleans’ food is world-renown, but it wouldn’t be what it is today without it’s many delicious influences. West Africa is one of the main components on the plate, ancestrally speaking. However, the story of food is not linear and Senegalese cuisine is every bit part of the delicious modern culinary palette, along with the ancestral one. Chef Serigne Mbaye wants to share the taste of Senegal with the world of fine dining .
“Cajun and Creole Cooking is extraordinarily similar to Senegalese cooking. Gumbo is cooked in one pot. Senegalese style of cooking is called “Ben chin” and there’s a restaurant in New Orleans called Bennechin. The word “Ben Chin” means one pot. If you ate the Senegalese gumbo and the New Orleans gumbo, you can see the similarity. My job with is to answer how can I tell that story through my food,” says Chef Mbaye.
Serigne Mbaye is a celebrated and well-traveled young chef of Senegalese heritage. He is originally from New York but moved to Senegal when he was a child. Eventually he would learn techniques in places such as Paris, San Francisco and Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. His mother is also a chef and was one of the first people to bring a West African restaurant to New York. Chef Serigne Mbaye continues that legacy by bringing a sophisticated and satiating taste of his culture to New Orleans. He is the chef of a pop-up restaurant named Dakar NOLA, which hosts many tastings and brunches in the city throughout the year.
“The markets in the capital city of Senegal, Dakar, reminds me so much of the New Orleans farmer’s market. Different farmers have different things to offer. Each farmer is trying to show you what they have and who has the best! Walking down Frenchman street or somewhere in the French Quarter and hearing live music, reminds me so much of Senegal. I feel like I’m in Dakar but speaking a different language. My purpose is to heal people’s soul through food. At that moment I have their heart,” says Chef Serigne Mbaye.