Kwane Onwuachi served escovitch, a Jamaican dish consisting of fried fish topped with pickled vegetables and spicy sauce, when he made his debut at the 2019 Food and Wine Classic in Aspen.
On parade as one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs, Onwuachi celebrated the spotlight—“it was a big experience,” he says.
The Caribbean inspiration ties back to his family roots, which also connect to Trinidad, Louisiana, and Nigeria—he lived in the latter for two years with his grandfather starting at age 10. These influences anchor his award-winning restaurant, Kith/Kin, which anchors the Intercontinental Hotel in Washington D.C., an unlikely location for what Esquire named one of the Best New Restaurants in America last year.
But the road to accolades wasn’t an easy one, and celebrating his heritage wasn’t always part of his persona. The 30-year-old grew up mostly in the Bronx, where he couldn’t escape dropping out of school, selling drugs, and joining a gang, all of which is detailed in his 2019 memoir, Notes from a Young Black Chef. He pivoted in his 20s, and launched a culinary journey that started with selling candy on the subway in New York to pay for his fledgling catering business. Eventually, he attended the Culinary Institute of America, worked at Eleven Madison Park and Per Se, and landed on Top Chef in 2015.
That all brought him to 2019, when he topped national lists and was awarded the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year. “I’m still a chef at the end of the day,” says Onwuachi, amid all the praise, expectations, and publicity. “I come up with a menu, and my creativity is inspired by life itself—through travels, reading, meeting new people, or experiencing new foods.” Kith/Kin constantly evolves, and he continues to put new projects on his to-do list; 2021 includes a feature-length film about his life story, adding executive producer to his list of accomplishments.
And what has he learned during his short but explosive time on earth? “Be yourself, don’t worry what others think of you,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 90 or 19, it’s what you do at the time that’s most impactful.”
Kwame Onwuachi’s Shrimp and Chorizo White Bean Stew
- 1 tbsp Canola oil
- 1 bunch Broccoli rabe, florets
- 1 can White beans, great northern
- 2 oz Chorizo
- 12 each Shrimp, medium, peeled
- 1 Large yellow onion, diced
- 12 Garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 each Serrano chili, sliced
- 6 each Thyme sprigs
- 3 each Bay leaves
- ½ Lemon
- 2 tsp Smoked paprika
- 2 cups Chicken stock
- To taste Kosher salt
Take the chorizo (or vegan sausage) and break into crumbles. Add to the pan with the onion, chili, and garlic on medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the beans, chicken stock, bay leaves, and thyme. Simmer for 10 minutes.
While that is simmering, place the canola oil in a sauté pan on high heat. When the pan is smoking, add the broccoli rabe, season with salt, and cook until caramelized on both sides. Remove from the pan.
Season the shrimp with the paprika and salt and sear in the same pan on high heat. Add a little more oil if needed. Remove from pan.
At this point the beans should be finished cooking. Season to taste. Plate the beans in a shallow bowl. Top with the broccoli rabe and shrimp, squeeze the juice of half a lemon over it all, and enjoy!
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