Oumar Diouf, born in Meckhe, Senegal, never imagined himself becoming a chef. In fact, it wasn’t customary for boys and men in Senegal to learn how to cook. But after his father passed away, his mother became the sole provider for the family's six children, and she spent long hours working, returning home late to cook dinner. This caused enough heartache and tribulation for Oumar to step in and support his mother in the kitchen.
Despite the cultural backlash and mockery from his friends, he knew that cooking was his family’s saving grace. One day his mother told him, “You never know when you're going to need this, because life is long. You're helping me and you're getting knowledge.”
Those words later rang true when Oumar left Senegal to play professional soccer in Argentina at the age of 22. After being let go due to an injury, he soon rediscovered his love for cooking. It was in Argentina where he learned about empanadas and the complex flavors wrapped into each savory pastry, which would later become a best-selling dish at The Damel, his brick-and-mortar restaurant in downtown Oakland.
But Oumar picked up another important experience before coming to the Bay Area. In 2008, three years after he'd moved to Argentina, he successfully opened a restaurant in Necochea, a small town off the coast of Buenos Aires. Despite his success in Argentina, it left him unfulfilled.