James Beard Award-winning chef Kwame Onwuachi is walking away from the restaurant that he built and propelled him to stardom. At Kith/Kin in Washington, D.C.’s InterContinental hotel, his 96-seat restaurant explored his family heritage and Afro-Caribbean cooking.
The 30-year-old chef announced on Instagram today that last night was his final shift at Kith/Kin as executive chef. The restaurant—which had reopened for outdoor dining on June 5 and indoor service on June 25—will continue without Onwuachi.
In his statement he did not give a specific reason for his departure but wrote, “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.” Onwuachi has declined to comment beyond his Instagram post.
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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.
Last week, pastry chef Paola Velez announced her departure from Kith/Kin to join the team at Compass Rose and Maydan. Velez had been furloughed during the Covid-19 shutdown, and during that time she helped organize the worldwide fundraiser Bakers Against Racism, that pulled in an astounding $1.86 million dollars for Black Lives Matter chapters and other advocacy groups around the globe.
Onwuachi opened Kith/Kin in the wake of his failed restaurant Shaw Bijou, which the Per Se and Eleven Madison Park alum closed less than three months after opening. Shaw Bijou “was all packaged in a way that wasn’t authentically me,” he told the Washington Post as he prepared to open Kith/Kin in August 2017. “The price point wasn’t authentically me. The gaudiness of the restaurant, in itself, wasn’t authentically me.” It’s an experience that nearly broke the young chef, who said he considered quitting the business altogether.
But he returned triumphant from that experience. At Kith/Kin, a slightly more casual experience than Shaw Bijou, tapped into the food of the African diaspora, cooking Nigeria, Trinidad, New Orleans and where he grew up in the Bronx. Last year, he was recognized for his approach, taking home the prize for Rising Star Chef at the James Beard Awards.
Despite his relative youth, he’s become a leader in the industry, working closely with Tom Colicchio and Naomi Pomeroy on the Independent Restaurant Coalition, to lobby congress for funds to be earmarked for small restaurants in the Covid-19 relief bills.