Kwame Onwuachi's Long Road to The Shaw Bijou
The Top Chef star's restaurant finally has an opening date.
Kwame Onwuachi’s road to The Shaw Bijou has been circuitous. When he was 12, his mother sent him from the Bronx to Nigeria to live with his grandfather where he learned to cook using river water and open fires. When he came back to New York, he sold candy bars on the subway to put himself through culinary school while simultaneously starting a catering business (which he ran until just a few years ago). And in the last year he’s made breakfast at the White House, cooked his way to a sixth place finish on the most recent season of Top Chef and travelled the world to hone his very first menu, which will be display at The Shaw Bijou, his first restaurant, opening November 1.
The 32-seat spot sits in a townhouse in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC, an area that's undergoing a transformation analogous to Williamsburg, Brooklyn or downtown Los Angeles. As Onwuachi told us, “household income in Shaw went from $60,000 to $300,000 in just the last couple years."
In other words, Shaw should be receptive to the Bijou's initial offering, a 17-course tasting menu. Top Chef watchers certainly saw some of Onwauchi’s eclectic tastes in what he cooked for TV—from homey jerk broccoli and corn bread pudding to delicate and precise dishes like beet-cured Hamachi and avocado mousse.
The specifics of the menu at the Bijou though are still mostly under wraps, but Onwuachi said he'll be drawing directly from his travels. When he spoke with us during the restaurant's early planning stages, he was working his own version of a butter-garlic-crab dish he had in Mumbai. “It’s just three components, but packs so many flavors into those three components.”
The Shaw Bijou has several intriguing quirks: Diners will move as they eat—starting at the bar upstairs, then moving the pass in the kitchen for a few courses before finishing at hand-carved tables in the dining room. And drink pairings will be customized to each diner. Onwuachi said he hates the limitations that come with a single wine pairing, so someone from the restaurant will call diners before the meal to make a plan. The discussion will get into which flavors each individual diner likes, how much they want to spend and whether they prefer wine, beer, cocktails custom-designed mocktails. “There is no cocktail list,” Onwuachi’s team told us. “[The bar] will create the drinks after the conversation.”
All of this won’t come cheap—tickets, sold through Nick Kokonas’s restaurant ticketing site Tock, will cost $185 and go on sale August 29.