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.
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This is hard. This isn't easy, but it's necessary. Yesterday was my last service as the Executive Chef of Kith/Kin. Opening Kith/Kin was a dream, for me and for many. It was a dream for the 272 slaves from Georgetown that sailed down the Potomac, leaving from right in front of where Kith/Kin stands, not knowing where they’d end up. For the 77 slaves in 1848 that were trying to achieve freedom by commandeering a ship from the wharf with the goal of equality. A dream for the Native Americans and Africans who met here, where these buildings stand, trading ideas and practices in order to survive. This place was for dreamers, least notably me, but dreamers who maintained faith that one day their culture would be accepted as equal and significant. The road has been tough, the journey sometimes treacherous, but what truly brought us joy was our ability to contribute - to make Washington, D.C. a place where those dreams can come true. A place where everyone is welcomed; where the inaudible have a voice, and anyone can be themselves. To my team, I have learned so much from each and every one of you. Thank you for pushing 110% every day and giving us almost 4 beautiful years of service. To the District, thank you for giving us a platform in order to give opportunities to all. Change is difficult and sometimes uncomfortable, but change is necessary for growth. Whatever my next venture is I will continue the dream and open something of my own where we can all stand taller together. Thank you for everything.
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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.”