Kwame Onwuachi shares flavor map of African diaspora in ‘My America’

In his newly released cookbook "My America: Recipes From a Young Black Chef" (Knopf, $35), James Beard Award-winning chef Kwame Onwuachi shares the dishes that celebrate the food of the African diaspora, including his spins on global recipes that represent the patchwork that is American cuisine. (Courtesy of Clay Williams)

Combined ShapeCaption
In his newly released cookbook "My America: Recipes From a Young Black Chef" (Knopf, $35), James Beard Award-winning chef Kwame Onwuachi shares the dishes that celebrate the food of the African diaspora, including his spins on global recipes that represent the patchwork that is American cuisine. (Courtesy of Clay Williams)

Atlanta History Center to host virtual author appearance on May 24

Kwame Onwuachi has an extensive “flavor map” of memories. By a young age, his kitchen recollections already stretched from the Bronx to Louisiana swamps to Nigeria.

Now age 32, Onwuachi can still vividly recall waking up as a child to a breakfast of fried leftover rice laced with garlic and onions and dotted with scrambled eggs. He remembers the “fireworks” of his first bite of curried goat as a 2-year-old sitting on his grandmother’s hip, and of living close to the land as a 10-year-old entrusted in the care of his grandfather in Nigeria.

These are among the stories and recipes that Onwuachi shares in his newly released first cookbook, “My America: Recipes From a Young Black Chef” (Knopf, $35), which he will discuss May 24 at a free virtual event hosted by the Atlanta History Center.

Following his James Beard Award-nominated 2019 memoir “Notes From a Young Black Chef,” “My America” adds to the growing collection of diasporic foodways publications.

Combined ShapeCaption
"My America: Recipes From a Young Black Chef" by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein (Alfred A. Knopf, $35).

Credit: David Stein

"My America: Recipes From a Young Black Chef" by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein (Alfred A. Knopf, $35).

Credit: David Stein

Combined ShapeCaption
"My America: Recipes From a Young Black Chef" by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein (Alfred A. Knopf, $35).

Credit: David Stein

Credit: David Stein

In the introduction, Onwuachi describes the cookbook as “an exploration of the past, of individual lifetimes and societal lifelines, told through recipes. It’s ancestral knowledge that I’ve married with my own unique personal experience and culinary know-how to show how brilliant the kitchens of my people are.”

His unique personal experience is that of the son of a Black mother and a Jamaican-Nigerian father, and as a formally trained chef who opened five restaurants before turning 30, and garnered accolades from Zagat, Forbes, Esquire and Food & Wine.

“My America” begins with a look inside the pantry, which Onwuachi calls “the soul of the diasporic kitchen.” Spice mixtures, sauces and condiments “maximized the precious moments in the kitchen” for enslaved people whose time was not their own.

Each chapter, whether on rice, greens, seafood or meat, also reveals the interconnectedness of diasporic cuisines — be it the common threads of jollof and jambalaya or one-pot stews of the American South and Nigeria.

ExploreMore cookbooks you might like

The cookbook offers plenty of examples of Onwuachi’s own personality on a plate with recipes like Cucumber and Avocado, Calamari Veracruz, Vegetarian Dulet, Satsuma Chess Pie, to name a few. “Those are things that really represent me,” he said in a recent phone interview. “Wouldn’t it be cool if those are in restaurants? If it becomes (common) like molten chocolate lava cake?”

Don’t put it past Onwuachi, a 2019 James Beard Award chef winner (Rising Star category), to turn that musing into a mission. None of his accomplishments — the latest includes partnering with Orly on a collection of long-wear nail polish — have happened by chance, he said. “You have to put in the work to achieve things. I write a list of goals. I always set goals and figure out how to attain those. A dream without a plan is just a dream.”

During the pandemic, Onwuachi left restaurant life on the East Coast and moved to Los Angeles for a position as contributing executive producer for Food & Wine. And the former “Top Chef” contestant and recurring judge has his sights set on another creative outlet: acting. “I’m hitting auditions, taking classes. It’s really fulfilling,” he said.

“I beat to my own drum. I have to be authentic to myself.”

AUTHOR EVENT

7 p.m. May 24. Kwame Onwuachi will speak at a virtual book tour event hosted by the Atlanta History Center. Free. Register at atlantahistorycenter.com/event/kwame-onwuachi/. 404-814-4000.

Sign up for the AJC Food and Dining Newsletter

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.