At the Senegalese restaurant Dakar NOLA, Sous Chef Sharena Smith is satiating the taste buds of New Orleans consumers.
In a short documentary, the young cook showcased her skills by creating a powerful blend of tastes and fresh seafood during an interview with Bon Appétit. Dakar NOLA has been named as the best new restaurant in New Orleans by the food magazine.
Smith is the lifeblood of Dakar’s pescatarian cuisine, skillfully maneuvering meticulous preparations in the center of the busy kitchen.
Throughout the day, Smith is in charge of the distinctive dining experience Dakar provides, which includes 30 seats, one nightly seating, and a seven-course Senegalese tasting menu. Fresh fish and produce are used in classic dishes such as sautéed oysters, red snapper, and eggplant, demonstrating the restaurant’s devotion to sourcing locally.
Smith clarified that Chef Serigne Mbaye, the restaurant’s owner and executive chef, likes to incorporate elements of both New Orleans and Senegalese fusion cuisine because each has a distinct past and story.
She explained that “Rice was a big thing during the slave trade. This is the reason why we make jollof rice here. That’s part of his culture, but it also resembles something of New Orleans as well. This is what feels home to him, so this is one of his favorite dishes.”
Under the tutelage of Chef Mbaye, Smith mastered her skill of fish butchery, which she exhibits throughout the day.
Mbaye said of Smith “Chef Sharena is the one that I lean on when it comes down to executing the food. She started when we first opened this restaurant, and she was helping out with pastry line and savory…”
After more than five years of operating Dakar as a pop-up, Mbaye and business partner Effie Richardson opened their establishment in a 30-seat jewel box space at 3814 Magazine St. in November last year, Nola.com reported.
The business partners met for the first time in 2018 when Richardson, a pediatric dentist, tasted Mbaye’s food at a pop-up at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum. “I was new to New Orleans and constantly searching for dining experiences and opportunities,” said Richardson, who loves to help African entrepreneurs. “The dinner was sold out, but I reached out and he made a spot for me.”
Born in New York, Mbaye spent some time in Senegal when he was a child before coming back to the U.S. to live with his mother in Harlem, where he helped her with her catering business.
“It seemed like one minute I was peeling garlic and onions for her, and then fast forward she’s at my restaurant opening. That’s been such a bridge between us. It’s surreal,” he said.
The chef touched on why he chose New Orleans as the location for his restaurant. “There is much in common between New Orleans and Senegal,” he said. “The people here are kind, joyful — there is a strong sense of hospitality, which we have in Senegal, too. There’s crossover with food and music. Both places know how to celebrate around the table.”