Chef Mory Sacko Is Building an Empire

This article is part of the 2023 TIME100 Next, our annual list recognizing rising leaders in health, climate, business, sports, the arts, and more. Read more about Mory Sacko—and see the whole list—here.

Even after a few years as a celebrity chef, Mory Sacko is still a little stunned by his rocket ride to the top of Parisian fine dining. His restaurant MoSuke was awarded its first Michelin star just months after it opened in 2020. And at 28, he was anointed host of the hit TV show “Cuisine Ouverte,” tweaking French classics alongside more established French chefs. It all seems a little surreal. Sitting one late-summer afternoon in his serene eatery, Sacko says, “A lot has happened in a short space of time.”

Now 30 (he turns 31 on Sept. 24), Sacko’s wunderkind status has been sealed since TIME first met him two years ago. Last year he was chosen to cook for President Emmanuel Macron at a key summit on Africa. And at MoSuke, where it can take months to snag a dinner reservation, he has fed Timothée Chalamet, Forest Whitaker, and former president François Hollande. His TV show, and the infectious smile atop his six-foot-five frame, has made him a recognizable figure on the streets of Paris, where fans greet him warmly.

Few, least of all Sacko, could have predicted that trajectory, when he began his culinary studies at age 14. The seventh of nine children, he was raised outside Paris with a Malian construction-worker father and Senegalese house-cleaner mother. He credits nightly dinners, when all nine kids crowded around his mother’s spicy food from her home country, for sparking his passion for cooking. Those dishes—passed down through the generations, with no written recipes—became his inspiration.

That is clear at MoSuke. Sacko mixes regional staples with his devotion to Japanese culture (he consumed a lot of manga as a boy) and his rigorous haute cuisine tutelage under masters like Thierry Marx. Hence his signature beef mafé stew contains katsuobushi, or fermented tuna; the French chocolate dessert is infused with wasabi; and the sashimi is made not with rice but West African attiéké, or cassava semolina. The results have wowed critics, while his parents, who have twice eaten at MoSuke, are more bemused. “For them, it is a bit of a UFO here,” he says. “There are recipes they know well, like mafé and fish soup, but it is totally outside of anything they can imagine.”

Sacko, who describes himself as continually restless, says he is already plotting what comes next. Slowly, he has begun piecing together the beginnings of a restaurant empire. Last year he opened two small outlets called MoSugo, whose menu of chicken burgers and fries is described as “le comfort food.” And in October, he is set to open a restaurant in an historic 300-year-old house near the Elysée Palace, once inhabited by General Lafayette. Called Lafayette’s, it seats more than 100 people—nearly four times the size of MoSuke, and offers more traditional French cuisine. “It’s a way of keeping awake and active,” Sacko says. Paris’s foodies and restaurant critics are counting down the days until he unveils his new creation.

Chef Mory Sacko Is Building an Empire

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