Rising Star Chef Morou Outtara of Kora - Biography

Arlington, VA

November 2011

Morou Outtara, who grew up on the Ivory Coast, says he cooks like he talks – “American with an accent,” a bit of an understatement if you ask us. At Kora, Morou’s, third solo venture, the food is so creative and unexpected it defies any easy label, but fully lives up to the chef's descriptive of "modern tribal cuisine."

Outtara's first inspirations in the kitchen came from his mother. Born into a large family, he would watch as his mother created impromptu feasts for up to 40 people when extended members of the family stopped by. Combining African, French, and Middle Eastern flavors, she would turn everyday meals into celebrations.

Outtara originally came to the United States in 1988 to pursue a degree in computer science. While attending school full time, he joined the opening staff of Francesco Ricchi’s I’Ricchi, one of D.C.'s premier fine dining Italian restaurants. Promoted when a co-worker quit an hour before beginning service, Outtara remembers his first job in a kitchen, “ My brother kept yelling at me in French so no one realized that he was teaching me how to run my station!" This somewhat inauspicious beginning was the start of a stellar career. Outtara then joined Mark Miller in the kitchen of Red Sage and it was there that his culinary imagination was really awakened.

Eventually, Outtara was appointed executive chef of Red Sage where he changed the menu from southwestern to creative American. Later, as chef and part owner at Signatures, Outtara felt he had found a true forum for expression. “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, adding, "I appreciate the opportunity to express my creativity at the restaurant.” This creativity earned the chef a spot among the 2003 StarChefs.com Rising Stars.

He branched out of Washington, D.C. to open Farrah Olivia by Morou in November 2006 in Alexandria, VA. During the restaurant's first year of operation, it was included in the Washingtonians top 100 restaurants and surprisingly their top 100 bargains, The Washington Post Magazine's 50 National Treasures, Northern Virginia magazine’s top 25 restaurants, and nominated for best new restaurant by the RAMW. Outtara opened the more casual Kora in 2009.