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Fusion Food- Abidjan Style

By Eve M. Ferguson
Published June 30, 2008

Morou Ouattara was raised on the Ivory Coast. When he opened up his restaurant in Washington DC, he was inspired to embrace some of the deliciously exotic cooking styles of West Africa.

When Chef Morou Ouattara opened up his own restaurant, he decided to go with the style of cooking he knew best. No, he didn’t opt for the Italian food he mastered as chef at Francesco Ricchi’s I Ricchi, one of Washington D.C.’s finest restaurants. He also didn’t recreate the menu from Mark Miller’s Red Sage Restaurant, where he was “introduced to new ways of thinking about food, using a new range of ingredients and cooking methods to create unconventional flavor combinations.” Instead, he depended on the flavors that came from his upbringing in West Africa.


Morou came to the United States in 1988 as a Computer Science student, but it was the love of cooking that would be his ultimate avocation. “Growing up on the Ivory Coast, my first inspiration in the kitchen came from my mother,” said the chef with his round, open face and engaging smile. One of many children and a larger extended family, Morou watched his mother whip up impromptu spreads for the 40-odd members of his extended family. His mother would make routine meals a cause for celebration by skillfully blending African, French and Middle Eastern flavors which heavily impacted the types of appetizers, entrees and desserts that Morou would later serve at his upscale Old Town, Alexandria eatery, Farrah Olivia (named for his first daughter).


Knowing that the culinarily adventurous would seek him out after a long and loyal following at I Ricchi, Red Sage and Signatures, his last posting before forging out on his own 18 months ago, Morou has created a niche for himself by offering up fusion foods with distinctly African flavors and ingredients.


And it is no small wonder that his own restaurant is wildly popular, following two back-to-back nominations for Washington’s Chef of the Year in 2000 and 2001 and a stint on Iron Chef, on which he was eliminated in the third round. He has also had the opportunity to work with guest chefs such as Zarela Martinez, Steven Pyles, and Jean-Marie Josselin and made guest chef appearances at charity events such as Share Our Strength in New York, Atlanta and Miami.


"Dishes that are considered traditional are new to me I see them in ways that perhaps the diner would not.  So, I twist them a little," he said.  "I appreciate the opportunity to express my creativity at my own restaurant.”


A typical evening saw a celebrity or two, a prom party and the curious eater wander in to a packed, tastefully appointed dining room where organically-shaped wooden circles dangled like mobiles from the ceiling. By far, the most popular offerings are the 5-course and 7-course tasting menus, which provide an appetizer, salad, multiple entrees and dessert.


But first, a tantalizing bread platter with intriguing spreads such as bok choy pesto, sun dried tomato puree and ricotta cheese opened up the<