Chef Kwame Onwuachi, labeled “the world’s most important chef” by the San Francisco Chronicle (among many other high accolades) grew up in the cultural melting pot of the Bronx. Cuisines, music and traditions of immigrants from all over the world made up his community. He grew up cooking with his mother in New York and Louisiana and in Nigeria with his grandfather. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America where he learned formal cooking techniques.

kwame onwuachi
Kwame Onwuachi, Image © Clay Williams

When he tried to use this classic French training in his professional life, though, something was missing. He was attempting to recreate his love of the culturally diverse foods from his childhood in a form limited to one school of thought. “I wanted to express myself through my cooking, but I thought the language to do that was, and would always be, the Western, that is the White, culinary idiom,” he says. “Looking back on it in hindsight, it was an autobiography written in a borrowed tongue.”

Chef Onwuachi took that lesson and ran with it. He created and followed his own culinary journey, retracing and researching the foods of his childhood. He developed his own personal “culinary idiom” and learned to share his food without anyone else’s lens obscuring it. Soon afterward, he rocketed to success in the culinary world. Chef Onwuachi debuted on Top Chef in 2015 and won a James Beard Award for Best Rising Chef in 2019. He also graced Esquire as Chef of the year and Food & Wine Magazine as one of the Best New Chefs and featured as one of Forbes’ 30 under 30. These achievements were not easily won, either. Throughout his school years, Onwuachi grappled with behavioral conduct. His mother sent him to live with his grandfather in Nigeria from the ages of 10 to 12 to “learn respect,” in her words. His struggles continued upon returning to the United States, leading to several expulsions from high schools and later the University of Bridgeport.

He worked hard to support himself and his culinary dreams. He moved to Baton Rouge to live with his mother and cooked for boat crews cleaning up oil spills before returning to New York in 2010. He waited tables, opened his own catering business, and took jobs as a line cook. He worked an externship at a highly acclaimed 3-star restaurant while he was in culinary school.

His first restaurant, Shaw Bijou in Washington DC, opened in 2016 to mixed reviews and closed after 6 months. This was the turning point for his realization that he was trying to tell his story in someone else’s words. According to Onwuachi, this is when he decided he needed to change direction. The variety of jobs he took and the amount of work and grit they required tell their own story. Kwame Onwuachi was not afraid to roll his sleeves up and get his hands dirty to achieve his dreams. When he realized he had built those dreams on the wrong foundation, he redirected them into creating an entirely new philosophy of food.

“My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef”

Chef Onwuachi’s acclaimed cookbook My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef narrates his culinary and personal journey to share his love of food through his own lens. “Show me an America made of apple pie and hot dogs, baseball and Chevrolet and I won’t recognize it. That’s a foreign land to me,” he says in the first line of the introduction. “My America is full of internal rhymes, studded with a thousand languages, references, allusions, bits snatched from here and there…an America that didn’t just arise but was built on something. This book is from that America, my America.”

my america cookbook kwame onwuachi cover image
My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi, Cover Image © Clay Williams

“My America is an America that didn’t just arise, it was built on something. This book is from that America.”

Chef Onwuachi’s cookbook contains over 125 dishes. Gorgeous full-page images complement his recipes and his own narrative stories of how he traced and assembled them. The book also delves into his personal and family history. Added to that are descriptions of the culture of ingredients and generational recipes. The culture of food hierarchy in certain parts of the African diaspora is also explored. This is not only a cookbook, it’s a cultural odyssey undertaken by one very talented, driven man—a man determined to share his passion and his history with the world.

Kwame Onwuachi and Sheila Johnson at Salamander Resort Family Reunion 2021, Image by © Clay Williams

The Family Reunion at the Salamander Resort & Spa’s

Chef Onwuachi returns to host the 2022 2nd annual Family Reunion event at the beautiful Salamander Resort & Spa. The Family Reunion is a three-day event at Sheila Johnson’s Forbes Five-Star Middleburg resort.

The event is dedicated to celebrating and supporting diversity in the hospitality community. Chef Onwuachi will join luminaries from the top tiers of the industry. Together, the talented group will fulfill the mission of the Family Reunion: “to nurture, develop and celebrate racial and ethnic diversity within the next generation of hospitality professionals.”

salamander resort family reunion 2021
Salamander Resort Family Reunion 2021, Image by © Clay Williams

The 2022 event will take place from August 18-21 (Thursday through Sunday) at the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg. Chef Onwuachi and the visionary Sheila Johnson will welcome members of the community and the hospitality industry. Johnson was the first Black woman to attain a net worth of over one billion dollars and remains the only Black woman owner of a Forbes Five-Star Resort. The event is co-sponsored by Food & Wine, where Chef Onwuachi is an executive producer. Immersive food experiences, panel discussions and daily recreation are planned throughout the resort’s expansive, gorgeously curated grounds.

Hospitality community legends on the schedule include celebrity chef Carla Hall, whose culinary journey began in Washington DC. Angel Barreto, executive chef of Washington DC’s Anju and double 2022 James Beard Award nominee is speaking. Virginia Ali, who was born in the 1930s and grew up in segregated Virginia will join them. Ali opened a restaurant called Ben’s Chili Bowl with her husband in Washington DC in the late 50s. Ben’s Chili Bowl is still open more than 60 years later under her children’s management. The restaurant was a hub and sanctuary for prominent members of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

kwame onwuachi suya

Suya

Kwame Onwuachi
Suya is "the grandfather of American barbecue," says Chef Kwame Onwuachi. Grilled, smoky meat, pickled vegetables, and a homemade spice blend make up this incredible Nigerian dish.
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 4 hrs
Marinating Time 2 d
Course Main Course
Cuisine Nigerian
Servings 6

Ingredients
  

Suya

  • 1 lb large (16– 20 size) shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 lb boneless ribeye steak, excess fat trimmed, sliced into ¼-inch strips
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced into¼- inch strips
  • 4 ½ tbsp Suya Spice Kwame makes this from scratch, but you can find it at most grocery stores or online. Kwame’s recipe is included in the cookbook.
  • 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ Cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
  • Tomato-Ginger Soubise to serve
  • Pickled Tomatoes and Onions to serve
  • lime wedges to serve

Tomato-Ginger Soubise

  • 1 roma tomato, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 3 tbsp Ginger-Garlic Purée (GGP) Kwame makes GGP from scratch, but you can find it at most grocery stores or online. Kwame’s recipe is included in the cookbook.
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk

Pickled Tomatoes and Onions

  • 1 cup Spice Pickling Liquid
  • 1 medium red onion, large dice
  • 1 medium ripe tomato, large dice

Instructions
 

Suya

  • Place the shrimp, steak, and chicken in three separate bowls. Season each with 11/2 tablespoons of suya spice and 1/2 teaspoon salt, mixing well to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (You can marinate the shrimp for up to 12 hours, and the steak and chicken for up to 48 hours.)
    1 lb large (16– 20 size) shrimp, peeled and deveined, 1 lb boneless ribeye steak, excess fat trimmed, sliced into ¼-inch strips, 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced into¼- inch strips, 4 ½ tbsp Suya Spice, 1 ½ tsp kosher salt

Tomato-Ginger Soubise

  • Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Toss the tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt. Spread evenly over the sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes, until deep red and a little wrinkly.
    1 roma tomato, roughly chopped, 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
  • Meanwhile, heat the grapeseed oil in a medium pot over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the GGP and cook until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onions and cook until translucent and soft, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes, along with the cream and milk. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until reduced to about 1 cup— watch carefully, as cream has a tendency to boil over, so reduce the heat as necessary to keep it from sputtering or burning— about 1 hour. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, then transfer to a blender and purée until velvety smooth. Season to taste with salt and set aside. You should have 1 cup of soubise.
    2 tbsp grapeseed oil, 3 tbsp Ginger-Garlic Purée (GGP), 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced, 1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup whole milk, kosher salt

Pickled Tomatoes and Onions

  • Bring the spice pickling liquid to a boil in a small pot. Place the onions and tomatoes in a nonreactive bowl and pour the hot liquid over them, stirring to combine well. Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour before serving. You should have about 3 cups of pickled tomatoes and onions.
    1 cup Spice Pickling Liquid, 1 medium red onion, large dice, 1 medium ripe tomato, large dice

Assembling the Suya

  • When ready to cook, prepare a grill for high heat. Let it heat for 10 minutes. Grill the shrimp, steak, and chicken, turning occasionally, until deeply browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes for shrimp and steak and 4 to 5 minutes for the chicken.
    1 lb large (16– 20 size) shrimp, peeled and deveined, 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced into¼- inch strips, 1 lb boneless ribeye steak, excess fat trimmed, sliced into ¼-inch strips
  • In a small pot, warm the soubise over low heat. Place the grilled items on a platter, dust with extra suya spice, and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with warm soubise, pickled tomatoes and onions, lime wedges for squeezing, and jollof rice.
    ¼ Cup roughly chopped fresh parsley, Tomato-Ginger Soubise, Pickled Tomatoes and Onions, lime wedges

Notes

Cooked suya shrimp will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 day, chicken and beef suya for up to 4 days. Tomato-ginger soubise will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Pickled tomatoes and onions will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Recipe from My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein. Copyright © 2022 by Kwame Onwuachi. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. 
Keyword africa, african, african cuisine, barbecue, BBQ side dish, chicken, grill, meat, nigeria, nigerian, nigerian cuisine, shrimp, spice, steak, suya

Spice Pickling Liquid

Kwame Onwuache
Pickling is an act of food preservation and also, thankfully for us, adds an entire dimension of bright angular flavors. This pickling liquid includes a touch of spice but is largely neutral, allowing the flavors of the pickled vegetables to emerge. Play around as you like. Garlic goes well, ditto allspice, cloves, and bayleaf.
Course Ingredient
Cuisine American, Southern
Servings 3 cups

Ingredients
  

  • cups white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup granulated white sugar
  • 3 tbsp + 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 12 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 tsp whole coriander seeds
  • ½ habanero pepper, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • 2 thin slices ginger, about 2-3 inches long
  • 2 cups water

Instructions
 

  • Place all the ingredients into a medium pot and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as it comes to a boil, remove it from the heat. Let cool completely, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve and transfer to a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid.
    1¾ cups white wine vinegar, ¼ cup granulated white sugar, 3 tbsp + 1 tsp kosher salt, 12 sprigs fresh thyme, 4 tsp whole coriander seeds, ½ habanero pepper, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped, 2 thin slices ginger, about 2-3 inches long, 2 cups water

Notes

Spice pickling liquid will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Recipe from My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein. Copyright © 2022 by Kwame Onwuachi. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. 
Keyword pickle, pickling, preparation, spice




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