National culinary star Kwame Onwuachi has resigned as executive chef at Kith/Kin, the high-end Afro-Caribbean restaurant on D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront. Onwuachi announced he was leaving the restaurant in an Instagram post today, then sent Eater a joint statement on the news from himself and the InterContinental hotel that housed Kith/Kin in the Wharf development.
At Kith/Kin, Onwuachi explored his family’s roots in Nigeria, Jamaica, Trinidad, and New Orleans through cooking that traced the routes of the African diaspora. He made dishes like jerk chicken with tamarind barbecue sauce, egusi stew with monkfish, and whole fried snapper escovitch while giving them a platform to be celebrated in a posh hotel setting. Since opening the restaurant in the fall of 2017, Onwuachi won the James Beard award for Rising Star Chef of the Year (2019) and published a well-received memoir that chronicled his rise in the fine dining world as a young Black chef. The chef often spoke with pride about the diverse makeup of the dining room a Kith/Kin, which became a destination for visitors to Washington and a place for the Black community to celebrate milestones.
In a statement sent to Eater, James Ryan, the general manager at the hotel, says the InterContinental is “excited for the future of this innovative, landmark restaurant and look forward to sharing more details soon.” Onwuachi tells Eater that the InterContinental has the ability to “do what they want” with the restaurant, and he’ll be seeking an ownership stake in his next venture. Onwuachi declined further comment, directing Eater to his comments in the statement:
The vision behind Kith/Kin was to open new doors for diners, to educate them and to excite them, which I absolutely think we have accomplished. I wanted a place to cook from my heart, showcasing the food of my life, and celebrating my diverse heritage. I am so grateful for the last three and a half years where my team and I were able to make that dream a reality. I’ve grown tremendously as a leader here and learned so many valuable lessons that I will take with me throughout my career. I’m thankful for my partnership with InterContinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf who allowed me to run with 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 venture.
Representing the InterContinental, Ryan starts his statement off by thanking “our colleague” Onwuachi “for his vision, passion and dedication in 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 lifelong relationship with Kwame that we value to no end.”
As an upscale dining option built for on-site eating, Kith/Kin shut down completely when D.C. instituted a dine-in ban to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in mid-March. The restaurant reopened for takeout June 5, and begin accepting reservations for indoor dining last week.
Kith/Kin marked a big comeback for the Top Chef star. His first D.C. restaurant, the exorbitant and ambitious Shaw Bijou, flopped in a matter of months, raising questions over whether a majority-white food media establishment was overly harsh in the way it treated the chef.
In an Instagram post announcing his departure, Onwuachi returns to one his favorite themes, opening an Afro-Caribbean restaurant in a waterfront location that was once a launching point for ships carrying enslaved people.
“This place was for dreamers, least notably me, but dreamers who maintained faith that one day their culture would be accepted as equal and significant,” Onwuachi writes.
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This is hard. This isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Yesterday was my last service as the Executive Chef of Kith/Kin. Opening Kith/Kin was a dream, for me and for many. It was a dream for the 272 slaves from Georgetown that sailed down the Potomac, leaving from right in front of where Kith/Kin stands, not knowing where they’d end up. For the 77 slaves in 1848 that were trying to achieve freedom by commandeering a ship from the wharf with the goal of equality. A dream for the Native Americans and Africans who
met here, where these buildings stand, trading ideas and practices in order to survive. This place was for dreamers, least notably me, but dreamers who maintained faith that one day their culture would be accepted as equal and significant.
The road has been tough, the journey sometimes treacherous, but what truly brought us joy was our ability to contribute – to make Washington, D.C. a place where those dreams can come true. A place where everyone is welcomed; where the inaudible have a voice, and anyone can be themselves.
To my team, I have learned so much from each and every one of you. Thank you for pushing 110% every day and giving us almost 4 beautiful years of service. To the District, thank you for giving us a platform in order to give opportunities to all. Change is difficult and sometimes uncomfortable, but change is necessary for growth. Whatever my next venture is I will continue the dream and open something of my own where we can all stand taller together. Thank you for everything.