After closing The Shaw Bijou, the DC chef is back with his upcoming restaurant: Kith and Kin.
Even Top Chef contenders aren’t immune to falling down the Netflix rabbit hole after a rough go.
“I was watching Black Mirror. It’s so good,” says Kwame Onwuachi, the rising chef who found fame on Top Chef season 13—and struggle with The Shaw Bijou, his short-lived DC restaurant that closed this year.
After the much-hyped restaurant shuttered, Onwuachi took a step back for a month to reflect and contemplate his next move (and binge-watch a bit, too).
“I live one block away from the restaurant, so everyday there was a reminder of it,” he says. “I was learning in the public eye, but I believe I was put on this earth to cook. So I could sit down and sulk, or get up and try again.”
Thankfully he chose the later.
1. The food melds Onwuachi’s backgrounds.
Questlove asked Onwuachi to cook at one of his food salons in DC using the Impossible Burger, and he ended up doing beef patties with a calypso sauce—not the usual, self-described “modern American cuisine with strong French influence” he's known for.
“José Andrés was drinking the sauce, and my friends were like, ‘Why aren’t you cooking like this all the time?’” says Onwuachi.
So here at Kith and Kin, the old Latin term for friends and family, he’s blending his Nigerian heritage with his coming of age in the Bronx.
2. Goat roti is the star.
That melding of regions means you’ll see Onwuachi’s take on his mom’s jollof rice, his dad’s okra stew and his grandmother’s goat roti, which will be the signature of the restaurant.
“It was the most delicious thing I had as a kid and still to this day,” he says.
He makes the roti bread in-house and marinates the goat neck and shoulder meat in a celery, parsley, habanero and culantro (not to be confused with cilantro, by the way) green seasoning. After the meat is braised in chicken stock and the collagen from the neck has turned the sauce velvety, he layers split yellow peas in between roti bread to wrap up the goat curry.
“This is a dish I’m really proud of,” Onwuachi says.
3. Expect unexpected spirits.
Sure, you’ll find a lot of rum here, but Onwuachi is stocking the bar and cellar with spirits and wines you’ve probably never heard of. “Nigerian palm wine and Ethiopian honey wine,” he says. “I want to introduce different things within the bar program because that’s where you can get creative.”
4. Look at the walls.
The restaurant is huge—3,500 square feet along the waterfront with 96 seats—and Onwuachi is making the most of the space. He’s commissioned artist Emily Eisenhart to create a mural in the dining room, featuring quotes from chefs he’s worked with in the past and admires.
5. You’ll be able to take some Kith and Kin magic home.
Onwuachi won’t give away any hints of what goes into his mom’s house spice mix. But you don’t have to reverse-engineer the blend, thanks to a small retail counter at Kith and Kin. He’ll stock spices, marinades and hot sauces that you can buy. Funnily enough, it wasn’t hard for Onwuachi to get the house spice mix from his mom. “She was like, ‘Here, take it.’ I’ve been making it for her for awhile, so I’ve earned it,” he says.