Louisiana gumbo leans on a thickening roux, while the Lowcountry’s version, usually called okra soup, depends on tomatoes. But the West African progenitor of those classic dishes can’t be made without palm oil.
“Palm oil is what gives it the richness,” chef Serigne Mbaye says of the gumbo he ate growing up in Senegal. “Palm oil is what makes it happen.”
Mbaye will serve his gumbo on Sept. 14 at Butcher & Bee, where he’s joining Charleston’s BJ Dennis to present a menu that Dennis is billing as a “Senegal meets Gullah mashup.” In addition to gumbo, Mbaye plans to make black-eyed pea fritters; collards and a smothered onion sauce.
Although Mbaye has cooked once before with Dennis, who was a fixture of Butcher & Bee’s calendar when the restaurant was primarily a sandwich shop by day, he hasn’t sampled his gumbo.
“There will be similarities between the two, for sure,” he says. “But his gumbo probably has more greens.”
Until last week, Mbaye was the sous chef at Café Adelaide, a Commander’s Family of Restaurants-owned property in the Loews New Orleans Hotel. But the restaurant closed after a 15-year-long run, freeing up the New England Culinary Institute graduate to at least temporarily travel and work events.
On Sept. 13, Mbaye is scheduled to cook at Graft, where co-owner Femi Oyediran will provide wine pairings and a playlist of West African music.
"I’ve wanted to do something like this forever," says Oyediran, who learned from his mother how to prepare traditional Nigerian dishes. "It’s hard to ignore the similarities between West African cooking and Southern cuisine, and pushing this type of food is in incredibly important and exciting to me."