James Beard Award winner and black activist Kwame Onwuachi has announced that he is to leave landmark Washington D.C. restaurant Kith and Kin.
Onwuachi, who shot to fame by winning last year’s James Beard Award for Rising Talent and opened Kith and Kin on the banks of Washington’s Potomac River, has established himself as a national culinary talent and a leading voice for black workers in the hospitality industry. It is the latter that informs his decision to quit Kith and Kin.
“Something that profits off of black and brown dollars should be black-owned,” Onwuachi told The New York Times. “It’s something that’s very, very important to me and something that I want to achieve in the future.”
Kith and Kin is part of the hotel InterContinental Washington D.C. — The Wharf, and had been closed from March until June of this year because of the coronavirus lockdown.
Onwuachi said that the time off gave him some space to reflect on what was important to him. He had returned to the Bronx, where he grew up, working with World Central Kitchen.
“It was inspiring to cook for the community,” he said. “It wasn’t, ‘oh the nuances, this curry doesn’t have enough anise seed in it.’ They were just like, ‘thank you for this food.’”
The chef is unsure of his future plans but he will, of course, stay in the kitchen. “I’m going to cook, I was born to cook, I have to cook,” he said. “But I do need to take some time to think about how to build a better future. And I need ownership to do that.”
Onwuachi follows pastry chef Paola Velez out the door of Kith and Kin, who left last month. She said that the closure of the restaurant, the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement had made her reorganise her priorities and “do things for the betterment of other people.”
In June, she co-founded Bakers Against Racism, an online bake sale in aid of black communities, raising $1.9 million so far.
“In our industry we are always typically fighting to keep the doors open,” she said. “Once the doors were blown off the hinges, I had time on my hands and was able to think things through.”