Arts + Culture
Photo courtesy of Kith/Kin.

Chef Kwame Onwuachi Serves Up His West African & Caribbean History On A Plate

We catch up with the Nigerian-Jamaican chef of the buzzing restaurant Kith/Kin to learn about how his identity shapes his work with fine dining.

Kwame Onwuachi is an ambitious D.C. chef whose roots go back to West Africa and the Caribbean. His mother sent him from the Bronx to Delta State, Nigeria at the age of 12 to live with his grandfather, a former Howard University professor. Here his grandfather taught him how to make traditional Nigerian dishes and the importance of quality food, leaving a lasting impression on him.

The Nigerian-Jamaican culinary artist eventually moved back to New York where he began selling candy on the New York subway to pay his way through culinary school. He would visit his aunts in Washington, D.C. and eventually fell in love with the city. Today, D.C. is the city the 29-year-old continues to build a lasting imprint on the quickly growing culinary scene. While he has worked in kitchens in both New York and New Orleans he has never fully managed a restaurant from top to bottom, his mastery is almost like a grandma who never measures anything when she cooks, but her cooking always perfectly plates the family history. His food is distinctly autobiographical and his confidant command outweighs his experience.

He rose to fame on Top Chef season 13, where he cooked his way to sixth place—as well as seen the fall of his fine dining restaurant The Shaw Bijou back in 2016. It's easy for critics to spend too much time eagerly leading conversations with his failure over success, especially someone coming from his background, but Onwuachi doesn't seem too phased by either his wins or loses.

With his nosedive approach to work, he's on a mission to serve up dishes that tell his family's story at Kith/Kin—meaning "friends and family"—at the InterContinental DC. While storytelling through food is nothing new, Onwuachi hopes to add a bit more nuance to tables serving up American classics in Washington, D.C. and beyond.

We recently caught up with him to learn more about how food and his migration from the Bronx to Nigeria to New Orleans, and later Washington, D.C. shaped his identity and work as a culinary artist.

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Interview
Photo: Shaughn Cooper

Ras Nebyu Is Washington, D.C.'s 'Uptown Lion Walkin'

We talk to the Ethiopian-American rapper about his new album, his Washington Slizzards crew, and the impact of gentrification on D.C.'s music scene.

Ras Nebyu is caught up in the crowd at Howard University's homecoming tailgate, where he can barely walk a block without shaking hands with another person who he knows. Although he didn't attend Howard University, the campus and the surrounding neighborhood forms as much of a part of his narrative as any student.

The Ethiopian-American rapper hails from uptown Washington, D.C., a neighborhood he uses to inform his latest album, Uptown Lion Walkin, a project that pays homage to his ancestral upbringing, as well as his thoughts on making money, love, happiness, and the government.

There's a twoness to Nebyu's identity that allows him to create from a place of historical-cultural reverence while pushing forward new ideas. He was raised in a Rastafarian household by an Ethiopian dad and African-American mother.

Nebyu doesn't hold much back when he speaks, like his music. He preaches about belonging to his community, gentrification and the diaspora. His work serves as a strong soundboard, for not only his Ethiopian community but D.C. natives.

In 2011, Nebyu co-founded the Washington Slizzards, a collective of Ethiopian creatives in D.C. What started as a joke, tacking on "slizz" to everything, became a buzz-worthy crew. Around the same time as the group's inception, he began releasing music into the world.

Nebyu first ventured into making music as a producer, but soon found it frustrating getting artists to use his beats. He decided to begin experimenting with using his own voice and hasn't slowed down since. OkayAfrica caught up with Nebyu to discuss the new album and growing up uptown.

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