Articles / Food with Mark Bittman: Kwame Onwuachi

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Food with Mark Bittman: Kwame Onwuachi

Published May 31, 2023

The dilemma of the creative person, “American cuisine,” and infiltrating a candy selling ring on the NYC subway


A year ago — almost exactly a year, it was last May — I interviewed the talented chef Kwame Onwuachi. Kwame graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, worked in the kitchens at Per Se and Eleven Madison Park in New York City, and was a contestant on Top Chef. But most people knew of him for his much-loved memoir, Notes from a Young Black Chefa coming-of-age that garnered fantastic reviews. Now, however, Kwame is probably best known for his restaurant, Tatiana, which was, last month, named the #1 best restaurant in New York City by the New York Times. (I can’t comment on that, because there’s no way I can get a table there, but once I do, I’ll let you know what I think.) So: What better time to revisit Kwame’s interview on Food with Mark Bittman?

I really enjoyed talking to Kwame. Before he became THE Kwame Onwuachi, he spent his childhood in NYC, but also in rural Nigeria with his grandfather; his mom sent him there to “learn respect.” 

Kwame sold enough candy on the New York City subway system to open his own catering business; cooked on a boat serving crews cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; and opened and closed a restaurant in Washington, DC. Through it all, his love for food reigned, even as he struggled with questions of what the traditional food world has to offer people of color, and how he, as a Black man in America, could make his way in that space.

Here’s my interview with Kwame, and the recipe featured on the episode, Kwame’s Sweet Plantains with Avocado Crema, can be found here.

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