A hardworking dad who had never baked or cooked until just five years ago has been appointed head baker at a luxury Glasgow eatery. 

After rising through the ranks of the Nico Simeone hospitality empire, Mafu Diagne has been promoted to the role at Valaria in Glasgow's West End. 

The 27-year-old, who is originally from Senegal, said: "I didn’t know anything about baking when I came to Scotland, but I’ve fallen in love with it.

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"The more you learn, the better you become and the more enjoyable it becomes."

When Mafu arrived in Glasgow, he could also not speak a word of English. He said: “I couldn’t even say ‘hello'. 

"Learning English from Scots in kitchens probably isn’t the easiest way to pick it up, but I’m making progress."

The Herald: Mafu worked his way up from kitchen porter to head baker at Valaria in GlasgowMafu worked his way up from kitchen porter to head baker at Valaria in Glasgow (Image: SIX Company)

The aspiring baker was helped by his cousin Modou Diagne, who rose from kitchen porter to head chef of 111 by Nico – and is now chef patron of the Kelvinside restaurant.  

"Modou's like a brother to me," said Mafu, "He convinced me to come to Scotland and I'm so glad he did. 

"It's been a journey. He's taught me so much; from his work ethic and creativity to specific techniques. He's always giving me advice and pushing me to improve.

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“Right from when I arrived, Modou only spoke English to me. That was hard at first, but it’s definitely helped me learn.”

The pair live together near 111 by Modou – as it is now named – but have very different shift patterns. 

Mafu said: "We don’t see much of each other anymore as we’re like ships in the night; I arrive at work around 3am, and he’s not back till after midnight.

"We can go a week without seeing each other, despite living in the same house."

The Herald: Mafu became passionate about pastries while working at 111 in GlasgowMafu became passionate about pastries while working at 111 in Glasgow (Image: SIX Company)

Like Modou, Mafu started out as a kitchen porter at a Nico Simeone venue, the Hebridean (now The Loveable Rogue). 

He then moved to 111 by Modou where he developed a love of cookery. And during the last year, Mafu has developed a passion for pastries, fuelled by YouTube videos of acclaimed French pastry chef Cédric Grolet.

He said: "Nico told me to watch Cedric for inspiration and it’s become an obsession. I can spend hours watching him on YouTube, copying everything he does. The end result can be so beautiful, it’s always worth the effort."

So when it was time to open Valaria in Byres Road, Mr Simeone said the time was right for Mafu to step up to a senior role.

Mafu said: “It’s hard work, especially starting at 3am as everything’s freshly made each day, but I love it. The weather in Scotland means there are no distractions. I’m able to focus."

The Herald: Mafu was inspired by his cousin Modu, who is now head chef at 111 by ModuMafu was inspired by his cousin Modu, who is now head chef at 111 by Modu (Image: SIX Company)

The new head baker, who has an 18-month-old daughter back in Senegal, said: "I’ve thrown everything into my career and it’s amazing to see how far I’ve come in such a short space of time.

"It also means I’ve been able to send more money back to my daughter; she’s really why I’m doing all of this. One day, I hope to take what I’ve learned and go back to Senegal and open a restaurant there.” 

Nico Simeone, whose hospitality venues include Six By Nico, said: “I can’t believe how quickly he picks things up. He’s like a sponge, absorbing everything from everyone around him.

"Within months, he was better than some people who’d been doing it for years. Like Modou, he has incredible focus to make the best product possible. 

Read more: First look as new Six By Nico restaurant opens in Glasgow
“As we expand to new concepts, like Valaria, it’s important we have people who we trust, who are already in the ecosystem, leading the way. That’s key to our success. 
“We could see the talent was there from very early on. After a short time, it was a no-brainer that he was ready to be head baker. I’m really proud of how he’s stepped into the role and we’re incredibly excited to see where he can take Valaria.” 

After an "extensive refurbishment" and menu revamp, Valaria – Six Company’s first-ever all-day eatery and bakery – reopened in February 2024.

It launched its take on the viral TikTok ‘crookie’, which is a mix between a croissant and a cookie, last week.