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.