Chef Kwame Onwuachi leaves revolutionary Afro-Caribbean restaurant Kith / Kin


National food star Kwame Onwuachi has stepped down as executive chef of Kith / Kin, the upscale African-Caribbean restaurant on the southwestern DC waterfront. Onwuachi announced that he is leaving the restaurant in an Instagram post today, then sent Eater a joint statement on the news of himself and the InterContinental hotel that houses Kith / Kin in the Wharf development.

In Kith / Kin, Onwuachi explored his family’s roots in Nigeria, Jamaica, Trinidad, and New Orleans through a cuisine that blazed the trail for the African diaspora. He prepared dishes like jerk chicken with tamarind barbecue sauce, egusi stew with monkfish, and fried whole snapper escovitch while giving them a platform to celebrate in a chic hotel setting. Since the restaurant opened in the fall of 2017, Onwuachi has won the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year (2019) and has published a well-received dissertation that chronicles his rise in the world of fine dining as a young black chef. The chef has often spoken with pride of the diverse makeup of a Kith / Kin’s dining room, which has become a destination for visitors to Washington and a place for the black community to celebrate milestone events.

In a statement sent to Eater, James Ryan, the hotel’s general manager, said the InterContinental was “excited about the future of this innovative and historic restaurant and looks forward to sharing more details soon.” Onwuachi tells Eater that the InterContinental has the ability to “do whatever it wants” with the restaurant and that he will seek a stake in his next venture. Onwuachi declined to comment further, pointing Eater to his comments in the statement:

The vision behind Kith / Kin was to open new doors for diners, educate them and excite them, which I absolutely think we have accomplished. I wanted a place to cook with my heart, showcase the food of my life, and celebrate my diverse heritage. I am so grateful for the past three and a half years that my team and I have been able to make this dream come true. I have grown tremendously as a leader here and have learned so many valuable lessons that I will take with me throughout my career. I am grateful for my partnership with InterContinental Washington DC – The Wharf which enabled me to fulfill my dream of sharing Afro-Caribbean cuisine with the world. I wish only the best for my team and colleagues as I begin my next exciting adventure.

Representing the InterContinental, Ryan begins his statement by thanking “our colleague ‘Onwuachi’ for his vision, passion and dedication to bringing Kith / Kin to life as Executive Chef.” Ryan’s statement calls the chef a “visionary of the global culinary community” and says the company has built “a long-standing relationship with Kwame that we enjoy endlessly.”

As a high-end dining option designed for on-site dining, Kith / Kin closed its doors completely when DC instituted a dinner ban to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in mid-March. The restaurant reopened for take out on June 5 and started accepting reservations for indoor dining last week.

Kith / Kin marked a big comeback for the Excellent chef Star. His first DC restaurant, the exorbitant and ambitious Shaw Bijou, went bankrupt within months, raising questions as to whether a predominantly white food media establishment was being too harsh in the way it treated the chef.

In an Instagram post announcing his departure, Onwuachi revisits one of his favorite themes, opening an Afro-Caribbean restaurant in a waterfront location that was once a jumping off point for ships carrying slaves.

“This place was for dreamers, especially me, but dreamers who maintained the faith that one day their culture would be accepted as equal and meaningful,” writes Onwuachi.

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It’s hard. It is not easy, but it is necessary. Yesterday was my last shift as Executive Chef of Kith / Kin. Opening Kith / Kin was a dream, for me and for many. It was a dream for the 272 Georgetown slaves who were coming down the Potomac, leaving right in front of where Kith / Kin is, not knowing where they would end up. For the 77 slaves in 1848 who tried to obtain freedom by requisitioning a ship from the quay for the sake of equality. A dream for Native Americans and Africans who met here, where these buildings stand, exchanging ideas and practices for survival. This place was for dreamers, especially me, but dreamers who maintained the faith that one day their culture would be accepted as equal and meaningful. The road has been difficult, the journey perilous at times, but what really brought us joy was our ability to contribute – to make Washington, DC a place where these dreams can come true. A place where everyone is welcome; where the inaudible has a voice, and anyone can be himself. For my team, I have learned so much from each of you. Thank you for pushing 110% every day and giving us almost 4 years of service. In the District, thank you for giving us a platform to give opportunities to all. Change is difficult and sometimes uncomfortable, but change is necessary for growth. Whatever my next endeavor, I will continue the dream and open something for me where we can all be greater together. Thank you for everything.

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Michael M. Tomlin