Sous Chef Sharena Smith of Senegalese eatery Dakar NOLA is satisfying New Orleans diners’ taste buds.
During an interview with Bon Appétit, the young chef demonstrated her skills by crafting a potent blend of flavors and fresh seafood in a short documentary. The food magazine voted Dakar NOLA the best new restaurant in New Orleans.
Smith is the pulse of Dakar’s pescatarian food, expertly navigating painstaking preparations in the hectic kitchen.
Smith is in charge of the unique dining experience Dakar offers throughout the day, which comprises 30 chairs, one nightly session, and a seven-course Senegalese tasting menu. Classic meals like sautéed oysters, red snapper, and eggplant are made using fresh fish and produce, showcasing the restaurant’s commitment to sourcing locally.
Smith added that the restaurant’s owner and senior chef, Chef Serigne Mbaye, prefers to blend parts of both New Orleans and Senegalese fusion cuisine because each has its own history 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…”
Mbaye and business partner Effie Richardson debuted their company in a 30-seat jewel box location at 3814 Magazine St. in November last year, after operating Dakar as a pop-up for more than five years, according to Nola.com.
The two entrepreneurs first met in 2018 when Richardson, a pediatric dentist, tried Mbaye’s food during 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.”
Mbaye was born in New York and spent some time as a child in Senegal before returning to the United States to live with his mother in Harlem, where he assisted 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.”