In his memoir, "Notes From A Young Black Chef," Kwame Onwuachi tells an inspiring story about his rise as one of America's most admired chefs. Onwuachi's story is more than a tale about the importance of tapping into your passion and turning into it a career. It's a timeless reminder about pushing through even when the cards are stacked against you. It's an inspiring story that's filled with life lessons that will resonate universally.
Onwuachi's life story is pretty amazing. He went from growing up in a rough-and-tumble part of the Bronx to moving to Nigeria to live with his grandfather. His adventure continued from there. He cooked food on a Deepwater Horizon cleanup ship and sold candy in New York subway trains to save money for his catering business. The young chef has continued to reinvent himself while getting more focused and committed to the process. He went from faking it to making it to ultimately slaying it.
"From [my mother] I learned perhaps the most important lesson in my life: Always keep moving."
I love rooting for the underdog, and I love reading books about the underdog coming out on top. Those stories are particularly inspiring in the challenging and uncertain times we live in now. I feel now it's more important than ever to turn to art, books, and music to maintain perspective. Onwuachi's memoir is one of those page-turning reads that will leave you hopeful, plus it will get you in the mood to cook. A great diversion from the bleak world around us. Every chapter in the book is followed by a delicious recipe from the hands of Chef Kwame, including a London broil, chicken curry, cheesecake, and chicken consommé with charred vegetables, Verde, and feta.
"Notes from a Young Black Chef" also provides a candid look at racism and the lack of diversity in many professional kitchens. It's a topic that the award-winning Onwuachi addresses subtly but with a clear intent by writing about his experience working in some of the world's most respected kitchens. I hope that his drive and perseverance paves the way for many other young, black chefs to be successful.
"You can stay in the lane if you want to be, but you can't ignore the road, either."
Onwuachi appeared on a recent season of Bravo's Top Chef while he was in the middle of planning the opening of his first restaurant, the Shaw Bijou in Washington D.C. His restaurant closed soon after its opening due to circumstances beyond Onwuachi's control. It wasn't a wasted experience for the young chef who turned the experience into his life motto.
"(. . . ) Never be sorry for doing something different, for trying and failing. That every day is day one."
That motto was relevant then and still applies today as Onwuachi closed his new D.C. restaurant, Kith and Kin, this week due to the global pandemic. It underlines that the rebel chef is facing another struggle alongside all of us. But knowing how he faced the ones he encountered before, I trust that he will weather this one too. He's clearly built that way.
Onwuachi's memoir is an excellent read about life and food that I highly recommend if you're seeking an escape and looking to be encouraged. Kwame Onwuachi inspired me with his sincerity, street-savvy, and drive for social justice. Plus, he makes me want to be a better cook with all his great food stories. It's time to spice it up!
"Notes From A Young Black Chef - A Memoir"
Written by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein
Published by Penguin Random House
Read it on Apple Books