Kwame Onwuachi. Photo: Evan Sung
If you live in NYC or are even remotely a foodie anywhere in the world, then it’s likely you’ve heard of Kwame Onwuachi. It may be thanks to his time on Top Chef, or his acclaimed restaurant at Lincoln Center, , winning a James Beard award, or through one of his much-praised books—or any number of other achievements. But Onwuachi has his sights set on more. Still under 35 years old, he’s a visionary, unapologetically Black and a proud New Yorker from the Bronx. We talked with him about what drives his cooking, why he began a food festival and where he feels at home in NYC.
When you were growing up in New York City, did you visit Lincoln Center?
Courtesy, Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi
What does it feel like to have your restaurant in such a coveted location?
KO: It feels amazing. It feels right. It’s cool to have a spot in such an iconic place where I can celebrate my culture in a very unique way.
Photo: Evan Sung
You’re a blend of ethnicities from the Black diaspora, what I call Black mixed with Black. How does that show up in your food?
KO: You know, I try to celebrate my culture in my menu. I have Nigerian, Jamaican, Trinidadian and Creole influences. So you’ll see that throughout the whole menu. I use them as building blocks of flavor.
Have you spent any significant time living in any of those countries?
KO: Yeah, I spent two years in Nigeria and I picked up a lot of things—from the culture to the food to just life in general and a deeper understanding of how people live around the world. I picked up different dishes like egusi stew, suya, fufu and jollof rice. A lot of different things that come from that area.
Courtesy, Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi
In what ways has New York City influenced your menu or even your design choices?
KO: Tatiana is my love letter to New York City. So you’ll see aspects of that all around, in the food and the décor. The chains that hang down represent the chain-link fences you’d jump as a kid. The iridescent columns are like oil slicks [that appear almost rainbow-like] from the fire hydrant running.
And then the food tells the story of the people that built New York City and made it what it was. So items like the Bodega Special [a dessert with brownie, ice cream and sorrel] and shawarma roasted chicken, even down to the drinks—having Nutcracker and Coquito cocktails on the menu, you know—those things reflect New York and all its glory. It continues to inspire me and also remind me where I came from.
Braised oxtails. Photo: Evan Sung
KO: I wanted a food festival that celebrated Black culture and contributions to the food industry. I haven’t really seen much of that in the culinary space. I wanted to add to that.
The music, the food, the community, the panels—it really felt like a celebration of the culture. Where do you see it going from here?
KO: Just getting bigger and changing up the program. We pretty much have the same blueprint since the beginning, so it’s just expanding upon that and continuing it. I just want to keep it going for as long as possible. [The third annual event took place August 2023 in Middleburg, Virginia.]
Curried snow crab. Photo: Michelle Giang
You and your restaurant have received so many accolades and awards. Is there anything that you haven't done yet in the culinary world that you would like to?
KO: I guess I haven’t had a show. A TV show centered around my ideas would be cool.
What about in the nonculinary world?
KO: Opening more businesses, and I’ll be dropping a sparkling water line soon.
We asked Kwame a few rapid-fire questions about New York City.
Where in New York City feels the most like home to you?
KO: Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi.
What food comes to mind when you think of the Bronx?
KO: Chinese chicken wings and pork fried rice.
Where’s your favorite place to go shopping?
Aside from your own place, what are some of your favorite NYC restaurants?