Glasgow Food Stories: Meet 111 by Modou’s head chef who came to Glasgow a decade ago with less than £200

“He probably seen something in me that he hasn’t seen in many people. I don’t know what it was, I just came in and done what I needed to do, got my job done, worked as hard as possible and tried my best.”
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Modou Diagne, aged 29, is the head chef and owner of the self-titled West End fine dining restaurant 111 by Modou - a strand of the Six by Nico brand - where he personally curates and develops rotational set menu experiences inspired by memories from his childhood.

He was born in Senegal, Africa before he and his family emigrated to Spain. At 19, Modou moved to Glasgow with under £200 in his pocket where he found himself homeless relying on charities for accommodation. After applying for a job as a kitchen porter at the restaurant on Cleveden Road in Kelvinside - then called 111 by Nico - he was taken under the wing of its founder and made an unofficial apprentice.

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“The restaurant started as 111 by Nico,” said Modou. “I was working under Nico and learning as much as possible, I just pushed myself forward to where I am today.

“I came here, struggled for a year and then I met Nico in 2014. I applied for a job, they called me up and asked me to come in and start. It was a Friday, I just said ‘yeah I’ll come in as soon as I can’. I got a taxi up and started working straight away. I was working with them for about a few months before Nico approached me and asked if I wanted to learn to cook and I said ‘yeah’. Since then, that’s where it all kicked off.

“He probably seen something in me that he hasn’t seen in many people. I don’t know what it was, I just came in and done what I needed to do, got my job done, worked as hard as possible and tried my best, got things done and moved on. Obviously he seen something in me and asked me.

“This is the first job I’ve had in my entire life, no prior cooking experience. Learning to cook was quite hard but at the time I didn’t really care, I just wanted to do something that could give me experience, where I could make some money and help look after my family. That’s all I could think about. I didn’t care how hard it would be, what time I started or finished or any of that stuff. There were ups and downs.

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“I never thought I’d come here and end up a chef. I left Africa when I was 16, moved to Spain, lived there for three years, applied for jobs, tried all that. Back when I was growing up, seeing my mum making fires, making food for us and things I always liked that. Watching her doing that every single day at home I think made it easier when I was learning how to cook, even though we done things differently.

“After learning how to cook for about eight months I sat down with Nico at the end of 2015 and that’s when we decided to do fine dining, and obviously I didn’t know what that was. We sat down and had a conversation, he told me what he wanted from me and asked what I wanted from him, and we made some promises. He had it on his mind that he was going to give me the restaurant, but that wasn’t until 2019, so at the time I didn’t know that. I promised him I’d stay with him wherever he goes and we agreed to take it from there.

“In 2019 he gave me the restaurant. He had a meeting with the staff and gave me the key to the office and made sure I had all the stuff. I didn’t know anything about it beforehand, so I burst out crying in front of everyone. I thought it was crazy I didn’t know what to feel. It’s amazing to be honest I can’t explain it. It didn’t change me at all, I’m still the same Mo, I just do what I need to do and move on.

“I’m a different person when I’m in the kitchen to when I’m outside. It’s completely two different Mos. I can stand in the kitchen and cook all day, seven days a week, constantly. Watching Nico do that as well was inspiring because that’s what he does. The passion came from him, working with him and growing up, watching YouTube and teaching myself from the top guys.

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“Glasgow is my second home, 100 percent. Even though I moved to Spain with my family, I would consider that my third home. I’m loving it here to be honest.”

111 by Modou recently launched INSPIRE, a five course tasting menu that takes guests on a conceptual trip through Modou’s life. More information can be found here.

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