On Saturday, July 18, you can get inspired from home thanks to TEDxPearlStreet, an independently organized DC event that will take place virtually. The theme of the event is “leading change,” and speakers come from backgrounds ranging from tech to art.
But we foodies are excited to hear from chef Kwame Onwuachi. The Top Chef alum and author of Notes From a Young Black Chef came to the DC area to lead the kitchen at Kith/Kin, which reopened early this month after closing due to the pandemic. The Afro-Caribbean fare has earned Onwuachi recognition from the James Beard Foundation and Food & Wine as one of the best emerging chefs in the country. We talked to him via phone about what fans can expect of his talk.
How are you leading change?
The TED talk is really talking about my journey, essentially. It talks about finding your passion, having ambition and determination. It’s about how a lot can happen in 10 years. If you look at your life and really try to achieve something over 10 years you’re not going to see instant success but when you look back at your life you’ll see how far you’ve come. You have to be better than the day you were before.
Ten years ago, I was selling candy. Now, I look back and I’m like, “Wow, I never thought I’d be here right now.” I always had that mantra to be a little better every day. Leading change in your own life is really what my talk is about.
What changes do we need to see in the culinary world?
A lot of change, with access to health care, being paid appropriately, not being overworked. Equity with people of color and women. We need lots of change. Lots of change. I think also what’s in legislation, there’s a lot of red tape in opening restaurants. You’re treated like criminals with the health department coming by. They normally don’t even work in the food industry. There’s a lot that needs to happen for the sake of the industry.
What about outside of kitchens?
Being kinder to each other and more understanding. Being more inclusive. I know that there’s a big demand for people to put Black Lives Matter on their Instagram posts and Twitter, but I want to see real change in their microcosm. How can you be a more-inclusive person in whatever industry you’re in?
You grew up in Nigeria. Is there anything we should learn from its culture?
There’s a lot of cultural relations from West Africa to America. You can’t really talk about American food without talking about West African food. In terms of just the way we treat each other, people are generally just more happy over there, more grateful for the gift of life. In the village I grew up in in Nigeria, we didn’t have running water and good nutrition. There’s a lack of that that people need to be aware of. We’re very, very, very fortunate.
Why should readers tune in to TEDxPearlStreet?
Because it’s important to understand someone else’s story. Everyone has a story. More importantly, you can be inspired by anything you really put your mind to. It may not happen overnight, but if you really put the work in, if you really, really want it, you can achieve it. It doesn’t matter how wild your dreams are. If you really put your mind to it, you can achieve it for sure. You have to believe in yourself.
What’s next for you?
Trying to get through this COVID-19 nightmare.
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