The chef Roze Traore has spent years building a name for himself in New York, but for his new project, he’s tapping his family ties to West Africa.
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By Dionne Searcey
Dionne Searcey, a reporter on the Climate Desk, was previously based in Senegal as West Africa bureau chief.
The chef and model Roze Traore has checked the big-name boxes in New York City that lead to prominence in his dual professions.
Mr. Traore’s résumé includes stints at Eleven Madison Park and the restaurant at the NoMad Hotel. He’s worked as a private chef for high-profile clients, including the Soho House, a private club in Manhattan’s meatpacking district, and last year he catered the Guggenheim International Gala. His modeling career has landed him gigs with Cole Haan and Louis Vuitton.
Now, he’s headed to the West African nation of Ivory Coast, where he’s opened a boutique hotel and restaurant in a palm-tree-lined beach resort area called Grand-Bassam.
“I want to make another contribution to the beautiful things in this country,” Mr. Traore said. “I want to change people’s perspective.”
For years, tourism across Francophone Africa appealed largely to French retirees who clung to lazy days at big resorts on azure coastlines. But Mr. Traore’s hotel, La Fourchette de Roze, opens at a time when a new audience of young Americans and other Westerners is being lured to the region by top-notch surf breaks and fashion festivals in Senegal and art shows in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast and beyond.
Mr. Traore, 31, who was born in Washington, D.C., and whose parents are Ivorian, spent part of his childhood in Ivory Coast. The country is bouncing back after the pandemic slowed tourism and from the taint of a deadly terrorist attack seven years ago. Tourists are again arriving in Grand-Bassam, drawn to its fishing culture, colonial architecture and laid-back beach vibe.
“It feels so incredibly natural to open my first establishment on this land where my ancestors settled and to be surrounded by so many resources,” said Mr. Traore, who was on site this month to put the finishing touches on the Jan. 19 grand opening, including installing the first of what he expects to be a rotating exhibition of local artists.
Mr. Traore is passionate about style, whether in the form of food, fashion or art. I first met him four years ago at a gallery opening for the artist Kehinde Wiley, who has started his own ventures in the region with an artist residency in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. On a recent drizzly day in Lower Manhattan, Mr. Traore spoke to me about his new project as he peered out over the East River from a perch at the elegant private club Casa Cipriani.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Your career has gotten a lot of traction in the United States, including your work at the Guggenheim and curating a menu for an event featuring the actress Lupita Nyong’o. Why divert to an entirely different project so far away?
For the past 10 years, my whole career has been so focused on working on my craft and building a name for myself in the States. I love my roots, and I’ve always kept my eye on the Ivory Coast as a place I feel instinctively connected and indebted to. This is another step I felt was perfect as I continue to build myself into a household name. Going back to the Ivory Coast keeps me grounded and is a true connection to my roots.
Tell me more about your roots.
I lived in Ivory Coast when I was younger. It was a place where I had these small moments that turned me into a chef — being surrounded by a community, going to the market, enjoying good food with my grandparents. My mom came to the United States and did what she was used to doing in Ivory Coast, which was hair braiding. She opened two salons in Washington, D.C., that are still running to this day. She made a name for herself there. She went back and forth to Ivory Coast and started building up a real estate business. She’s a hard-working entrepreneur.
What role did your mother play in your career?
At first she didn’t really understand what I was doing, but now she gets it. She said, “Maybe it’s the time for us to work together.” She bought the property, and we built it up together. This place in Ivory Coast, it was just very wholesome because my dad was a fisherman. It felt great to finally be able to say I’m thankful for where I’m at, for the opportunities that I’ve gained in the States, and I want to return to this place. I’ve always liked small boutiques where you’re able to focus more. This will be like my house, where I can welcome people and have them enjoy my energy.
As a model and a chef, you must believe that presentation is important. Describe the hotel for me.
The hotel has boutique vibes and a very clean look. There are only six rooms. I’m going to have the classics on the menu, the local fare like braised fish with plantain leaves and attiéké (a cassava-based side dish similar to couscous). Nothing too heavy, nothing too hectic. I come from the gastro world, but I enjoy Ivorian food. I’m not here to change the cuisine, and I’m not trying to have a stuffy place. I’m not saying I want to bring three Michelin stars to Ivory Coast. We’ll have elevated cuisine that appeals to a casual crowd. Depending on the hours, you’ll be able to get a quick meal and sit on the beach and chill. We’ll also accommodate V.I.P.s on occasion, but it’s not corporate. It’s just my mom and me.
You’ve had a traditional career as a chef, paying your dues at esteemed restaurants and working under well-known chefs. And you’ve had a traditional modeling career. But being both a model and a chef is unique. Has that helped you distinguish yourself?
Race plays a big role in my story as a chef as I am very often the only Black man on the line in the kitchen. This attribute makes me different than my culinary peers, as does my former life as a model. I like the communication between what looks good and what feels good. All my career, I’ve done fine dining. But this time of year, people always call me to make appearances for Black History Month. I’m interested in fine dining, but they want me to cook African food or soul food. I’ve stopped answering those calls.
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