At a recent five-course tasting dinner for Dakar Nola, a Senegalese pop-up kitchen in New Orleans, chef Serigne Mbaye was short one person on his already-small staff and working with two others for the first time. You’d never know it, though — in the kitchen the trio moved with ease, one person stationed by the sink for mise en place, the other two, including Mbaye, gliding about, the stove their home base. Plates were lined up on the center island, ready to be filled, and the mood in the room was quiet and steeped with concentration.
At this point, Mbaye would normally be preparing to switch his focus to the guests seated in the stately courtyard of LGD boutique hotel Margaret Place, where Dakar Nola is currently based. With a smaller staff, he would mostly have to stay posted in the kitchen — still, he found time to come out and introduce each dish: an elegant fonio salad with ribbons of baby kale; nutty West African millet; and Louisiana sweet potatoes and squash, a local strawberry vinaigrette extending the dish’s provenance from Senegal to Louisiana. Later, a piece of seared local red snapper arrived in a light seafood broth with thinly sliced summer squash and dots of basil oil.
Mbaye, 27, pours all his energy and passion into creating his West African-meets-Creole cuisine in New Orleans, specifically through Dakar Nola and his frequent collaborations with local chefs that continue to inspire him. Although he’s still working on setting up Dakar Nola permanently in New Orleans, Mbaye is deeply committed to working with and lifting up other Black chefs along his journey.
This effort to bolster others in his community is why he’s planning a special series of Juneteenth dinners at Margaret Place, where Dakar Nola is currently based. Every Tuesday in June, he’ll be collaborating with four New Orleans chefs on five-course tasting menus showcasing their personal heritage and vision.
“Juneteenth is such an important day — especially this year,” Mbaye told Eater. Juneteenth, the holiday honoring the day formerly enslaved people learned of their emancipation, started on June 19, 1865. Black and African-American communities have celebrated the occasion since then; this year’s observance follows the 2020 social justice reckoning that saw protests over the murder of George Floyd and other Black citizens at the hands of law enforcement institutions, as well as public conversations about issues of white supremacy, police brutality, and racism.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to showcase four amazing chefs who I’ve been watching closely the past few years,” Mbaye said, adding that the chefs are “living out our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”
Mbaye’s own background includes cooking in kitchens from Commander’s Palace to the two- and three-star Michelin restaurants L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in New York and Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. He was born in Harlem, where he found a love for food while learning how to cook from his mother, a restaurant owner, and spent his childhood splitting time between there and Senegal, where he went to school. Mbaye has lived in many cities but says he finds New Orleans to be the closest American city to Dakar, by virtue of its food, culture, and even its history under French colonization, as he described to Eater in 2019. He recently spent six weeks in Senegal, an experience he found energizing on so many levels.
“What I saw in Dakar really inspired me to focus on the spices of my cooking,” he said, resulting in bold flavors lent by habanero peppers, dehydrated seafood powder, and dehydrated bean powder. “These flavors are the backbone of what makes Senegalese cuisine so great, the balance of smokiness, acidity, and tanginess.” His Instagram offers a colorful travel diary of his journey, from his tasting the pink river (Lac Rose) organic salt on the Island of Goree to visits to bustling marketplaces and street food stalls.
After returning to New Orleans earlier this spring, he knew he wanted to recognize Juneteenth by collaborating with Black chefs from New Orleans. “Because I’m not from New Orleans, this is a way for me to show respect to chefs who grew up here cooking Creole cuisine,” Mbaye said. “I want to use my platform to connect them with a broader audience.”
The five-course meals are priced at $85, with wine available for an additional charge. Guests can book online through the Dakar Nola website. Dinner starts promptly at 6 p.m., served in Margaret Place’s lush and intimate courtyard. The hotel and event venue, located at 1133 Margaret Place on the edge of the Lower Garden District, was restored to its gorgeous 1854 Greek Revival beauty by local architect and Tulane grad Trenton Gauthier.
Mbaye isn’t sure how he’ll be collaborating with each chef. “I’ll let them take the lead and let me know what they want to do, working together or splitting up the courses. I have a great crew working with me,” he says, including a front-of-house staff with longtime roots in New Orleans fine dining, all of whom are there in large part due to their support of Mbaye and his work with Dakar Nola.
He hopes to land somewhere permanent, but for the moment, he is happy to be sharing his culture and cuisine at Margaret Place. “Things happen in the right time. My idea is to let folks know about how much West African and specifically Senegalese cultures have inspired Creole cuisine,” he says. “And there’s no other city that understands that like here.”
Below, a look at each of the chefs on the schedule for Dakar Nola’s Juneteenth dinners, starting Tuesday, June 1:
Chef Lashonda Cross @chef_shonda
Tuesday, June 1
Born and raised in New Orleans, Lashonda Cross has been a professional chef for the last six years. The self-taught chef, who says her “passion for cooking stems from my passion for people,” started her professional culinary career while working with James Beard award-winning Chef Nina Compton at her restaurant Compere Lapin. Now a private chef, Cross has had the opportunity to cook around the world. The menu for her June 1 collaboration includes a watermelon and pickled peach salad, a version of Mbaye’s black-eyed peas akara, and shrimp and fonio grits. The meal will finish with a cornbread cake served with milk ice cream, blueberry jam, and fresh mint.
Chef Byron Bradley @2brothers1love
Tuesday, June 8
Born in Monroe, Louisiana, and raised in New Orleans, Bradley grew up surrounded by Creole and Caribbean cultures. While serving in the military, he decided to join his love for the arts and passion for cuisine. In 2015, he was awarded the Chef’s Move scholarship — now the MINO Foundation — to attend the International Culinary Center in New York. Dedicated to education around food supply, sustainable sourcing, and local food systems, Bradley is the founder and partner with David Hargrove of the catering company 2 Brothers 1 Love, and is working on opening his own restaurant.
Chef Lloyd “Mac” McKissick @oh_chefmac
Tuesday, June 15
Mac McKissick, owner of private chef and catering service Let’s Eat NOLA, was born and raised in New Orleans East. He worked at Bourbon House and Commander’s Palace before moving to Washington, North Carolina, to help open The Hackney. He returned to New Orleans to start his own business, with a goal to bridge the gap between African and Creole cuisine in his cooking.
Chef George Lopez @butteredgoods
Tuesday, June 22
Born and raised in New Orleans, Lopez’s Honduran Garifuna ancestors came to New Orleans more than 70 years ago. Lopez’s upbringing in New Orleans East sparked an appreciation for Asian culture influenced by the Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese communities in his neighborhood. His culinary career started at the Steakhouse in Harrah’s casino; he was recently promoted to sous chef at Maypop restaurant, where he’s able to explore the intersection of Asian and Creole cuisines.