The D.C.-based chef talked with Trevor Noah about his path to becoming a chef, his new memoir, and what he hopes people will take away from his story.

By Bridget Hallinan
Updated June 12, 2019
Chef Kwame Onwuachi
Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images

2019 has been a big year for Chef Kwame Onwuachi. In April, he was named one of 10 of our best new chefs for his work at Kith/Kin, where he celebrates the flavors of the African diaspora through modern twists; just under a month later, he also won the James Beard Foundation’s 2019 “Rising Star Chef of the Year” award. Not to mention his memoir, Notes from a Young Black Chef, also debuted in April—so when he appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Tuesday, Noah asks him if, at 29 years old, it all feels real.

Much of Onwuachi’s conversation with Noah is spent on how he got to where he is today—"don't give away the whole book," he jokes to the TV host. They discuss how his mother sent him to Nigeria for two years so he could learn respect when he was 10 years old; he also talks about when he was involved with a gang. It wasn’t something you plan, he says, and that we can unfortunately be a product of our own environment; however, he also thinks that’s a mentality we can get out of. His turning point was when Barack Obama walked across the stage to be inaugurated as president.

“I didn’t think that I’d see a black president in my lifetime,” Onwuachi says. “I voted for him, and everything, but 55 years ago, we couldn’t even eat at the same restaurants as white people everywhere. To see that, it showed me that I can do anything I put my mind to.”

From there, Onwuachi explains how he moved to Louisiana and did the only thing he really knew–working with food. He took everything one day at a time, with the goal that every year, he was in a better place than he was the previous year. The process led him to graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, competing on Top Chef, and eventually, sitting in front of Noah on TV. At the close of the interview, Noah asks Onwuachi what he hopes young men will take away from his story when they look at him or read his memoir—his answer? That anything is possible.

“If you really put your mind to it, and you work, and you put in the hours, and you just outwork everyone else, you can be successful in any field you’re in,“ he says. “I don’t think this book is just for young chefs, I don’t think it’s for black chefs, I think it’s just for anyone. Anyone to see that if you really want something—if you really, really want it—you can achieve it. That’s what I want people to walk away from reading Notes from a Young Black Chef.”

You check out the full interview on The Daily Show’s site. To hear more from Onwuachi, he also recently appeared on our Communal Table Podcast with senior editor Kat Kinsman to talk about public pressure, representation, and finding peace—take a listen on our podcast page, or find it on YouTube, iTunes, Sticher, Player FM, and Spotify.