James Beard award-winning chef and Top Chef guest judge
Photo Credit: Clay Williams
About Kwame Onwuachi
By the age of 27, Kwame Onwuachi had competed on Top Chef, been named a 30 Under 30 honoree by both Zagat and Forbes, and had opened five restaurants. He cooked at the White House twice under the Obama administration, and he was the head chef of Kith/Kin inside the InterContinental at the Wharf and the owner of Philly Wing Fry in Washington, D.C. Now he is returning to his hometown in New York City and opening an Afro-Caribbean restaurant on the ground floor of performance venue David Geffen Hall. But his path to success was neither easy nor straightforward. In his relatable and charismatic talks, Onwuachi shares his experiences of overcoming adversity and pursuing one’s dreams, even when they aren’t what you expected. Drawing from his experience in the fine dining space, he advocates for increased diversity in the food world and more opportunities for people of color.
Kwame Onwuachi’s upbringing in the Bronx was marked by violence and financial precarity, and he was sent to live with his grandfather in rural Nigeria to “learn respect.” As Onuwachi recounts in his memoir, Notes from A Young Black Chef, the hard-won knowledge he gained in Nigeria was not a match for the pervasive temptation—and easy money—of drugs when he returned home. It was his passion for food, sparked in his mother’s tiny apartment kitchen, that changed his life and became his career. In the course of his food journey, he worked as a cook on an oil cleanup ship, peddled candy on the subway to finance his first catering business, eventually graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and trained under chefs at elite Manhattan restaurants, where he learned how unwelcoming the world of fine dining could be for people of color. When, after years of planning, he opened his first restaurant—the incredibly ambitious Shaw Bijou—it was forced to close only a few weeks later. Taking the lessons he learned, he regrouped and opened Kith/Kin, a restaurant showcasing Afro-Caribbean food, to success and acclaim. Onwuachi was subsequently named one of America’s best new chefs by Food & Wine magazine.
Onwuachi’s first cookbook, My America, explores the question: “What is American food?” Featuring more than 125 recipes that showcase the true diversity of American food, My America is also a celebration of the food of the African Diaspora, as handed down through Onwuachi’s own family history, spanning Nigeria to the Caribbean, the South to the Bronx, and beyond.
In 2019, Kwame Onwuachi was named on the TIME 100 Next List, and received the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year. In addition to Onwuachi’s run on Top Chef, he has appeared on The Dish and CBS This Morning, and he has been interviewed by The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, NPR, and PBS. His memoir, Notes from A Young Black Chef, which is nominated for the 2020 IACP Cookbook Awards, is currently being adapted into a feature film starring Lakeith Stanfield. In 2021, he joined Food & Wine as a contributing executive producer for the brand. He has also hosted the James Beard Awards, appeared on the hit HBOMax show Selena + Chef, and returned to Top Chef as a judge.
Notes from a Young Black Chef
Kwame Onwuachi shares the astonishing story of his rise to culinary stardom in spirited talks aimed at students, food-lovers, or anyone looking for a dose of inspiration. From grappling with his personal struggles to navigating the insular and often narrow-minded restaurant world, Onwuachi’s journey is a heartfelt testament to his passion and resilience, and to the power of food to teach, inspire, and transform.
Praise for Kwame Onwuachi
Academic Convocation went wonderfully! We really enjoyed having Kwame visit our campus and everyone loved his speech and Q+A portion. I have really enjoyed working with you as well!— Wichita State University
The event was fabulous. Kwame did a phenomenal job. He was a delight to work with, as were you and the whole PRH team. I was just telling our director this morning about how pleased I’ve been with the whole process and everyone I’ve interacted with from your team. It really makes putting on complex events like this much easier!— Anythink Libraries
Praise for My America
My America is a must-have for anyone who wants to be a better cook. Each recipe is an insight into Kwame’s family, travels, and time spent in some of the best kitchens in the world. This book will expand your pantry with spices and ingredients that are so delicious and that really should be in every kitchen everywhere. I want to make the Egusi Stew for dinner tonight—so good!— David Chang
In My America, Chef Kwame Onuwuachi’s story continues with recipes! He offers us his culinary vision of an inclusive nation. ‘His’ America revels in Nigerian suya and Creole hash browns, Trinidad callaloo and Southern collard greens. There’s braised oxtail, egusi with goat, and a repertoire of dishes that delight with the bright tastes of the African Atlantic world. It is a savory nation, indeed, and I am proud to be a citizen.— Jessica B. Harris
I love My America—not only for its vibrant, delicious, and seasonal recipes that explore the African diaspora, but for the moving story Kwame tells: how food knits together our communities, celebrates and preserves our cultures, and intimately connects us to the land and the people we came from.
My America is a culinary journey that’s well seasoned with many flavors of the diaspora. Kwame pays respect to the ancestors, using his culinary chops to remix their food to show the beauty of his people.— Marcus Samuelsson
Kwame Onwuachi uses his own story as a vehicle for sharing recipes from the African diaspora. These dishes—from the United States, the Caribbean, Nigeria, and elsewhere—as honed by his expert palate and tremendous talent, are American food at its finest.— Angela Rye
Praise for Notes from a Young Black Chef
Fierce and inspiring. . . . This rip-roaring tale of ambition is also a sobering account of racism in and out of the food industry.— The New York Times Book Review
[An] essential memoir.— Time
If there’s one food book worth recommending this year, it’s D.C. chef Kwame Onwuachi’s sharp memoir. . . . [It] keeps readers hooked until the very last page.— Eater
Notes From a Young Black Chef might be the literary heir to Kitchen Confidential. In the spirit of Bourdain’s no-holds-barred culinary-lit classic [it] unspool[s] the chef’s life story with the same mix of brutal honesty, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and atmosphere-conjuring prose. But Onwuachi’s story is completely his own. . . . A gripping account of an already extraordinary life.— Entertainment Weekly
A young black chef’s raw and gritty tale of survival, ingenuity, and hustling. Kwame takes us on this journey where he eventually finds himself captivated by the culinary world of fine dining. A fast-paced page turner with inspirational recipes at the end of each chapter.— Carla Hall, author of Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration
A fascinating and far reaching memoir.— Ed Levine, Serious Eats
Onwuachi’s memoir should be required reading, not just for future chefs, but for anyone who wants a glimpse into one man’s tale of what it’s like to be young, black and ambitious in America.— The Washington Post
A stunning memoir.— Food & Wine
Kwame Onwuachi has given us something to crave. A culinary autobiography sitting at the crossroads of West Africa, the American South, and the Caribbean and beyond mixed with his journey to find himself and the flavors that make him unique. This is the future of Black food writing and a new chapter in the saga of how chefs come of age.— Michael W. Twitty, author of The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South
Engaging and well crafted. . . . Onwuachi’s vision as a chef is inspired by his desire to make the fine-dining dishes he wants in a country that many insiders and investors argue isn’t ready for a black chef making anything beyond upscale versions of fried chicken and macaroni and cheese.— Minneapolis Star Tribune
With Notes From a Young Black Chef, Kwame Onwuachi proves that 29 isn’t too young to write a memoir.— Eater
This book is a testament to the old adage, ‘it’s not how hard you hit but how you respond after being hit.’ Chef Kwame Onwuachi is a living example of bouncing back when hit with challenges and obstacles. Notes from a Young Black Chef is an inspiring tell-all about the reality of being a young Black chef in the world of fine dining and all the roads taken to become a culinary sensation.— Edouardo Jordan, chef/owner of Salare, Junebaby, and Lucinda Grain Bar
In a decade, when fine dining restaurant kitchens are filled with—and run by—Black people wearing chef whites, Kwame Onwuachi’s book will have everything to do with it. He spares nothing, not his own pride or his rightful frustration with an industry that marginalizes people of color in visible positions, to craft a memoir that’s both powerful in the present and a beacon for the road ahead.— Kat Kinsman, author of Hi, Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves
[An] inspiring memoir. . . . Onwuachi wonderfully chronicles the amazing arc of his life.— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Kwame is a chef giving a lot more than notes in this remarkable story. His candor and refreshing point of view tell a story of guts and passion from a chef who translates his expertise, where we all can learn from his stories.— Joseph “JJ” Johnson, chef/founder, Fieldtrip and Henry at Life Hotel
It may seem unusual for one so young to pen a memoir. However, Kwame Onwuachi has lived two or three lifetimes in his journey thus far and recounts them with humor, insight, and honesty in Notes from a Young Black Chef. It’s Kitchen Confidential from a Black point of view.— Jessica B. Harris, author of My Soul Looks Back
An impassioned debut memoir. . . . Grit and defiance infuse a revealing self-portrait.— Kirkus Reviews
You couldn’t ask the universe for a more colorful creative culinary adventurer than chef Kwame, who blends the stories and history of his African and African American heritage into a literary pot of brilliant cultural flavors. An amazing recipe of a life lived to the fullest, Notes from a Young Black Chef is seasoned with herbs of pain, hardship, abuse, and confusion but also infused with the flavors of joy, triumph, excitement, challenge, and winning.— Alexander Smalls, coauthor of Between Harlem and Heaven
Still under 30, [Onwuachi] has already had a lifetime of career highs and lows, making for an engaging account.— Library Journal
Eat this book! It satiates all five taste points. It is a generational cultural roux; dusky dark, and deeply flavored. Kwame Onwuachi is a ravenous chef. His appetite for culinary expression and insistence on bringing that gift forward to the feeding of our minds, as well as our bellies, inspires and motivates across all disciplines.— Alfre Woodard
Books by Kwame Onwuachi
Media About Kwame Onwuachi
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- Kwame Onwuachi travels from Washington, D.C.
In his first cookbook, Kwame Onwuachi (“the most important chef in America” —San Francisco Chronicle), the acclaimed author of Notes from a Young Black Chef, shares the dishes of his America; dishes that show the true diversity of American food.
“Kwame’s powerful, lyrical book is part memoir, part cookbook, but also all memoir and all cookbook. It’s other things, too—a history of food, a collection of mouth-watering photographs, and a repository of wisdom.” —Questlove