The sensational Afro-Caribbean restaurant, Tatiana, owned by Nigerian-Jamaican superstar chef, Kwame Onwuachi, is offering a unique taste of his Afro-Caribbean heritage spiced with original New York City flavor, at the Lincoln Center.
Kwame Onuwachi’s Rough Start
Kwame Onwuachi has successfully carved a path of cultural relevance and culinary excellence that captivates food enthusiasts worldwide, but before occupying the high ranks in chefdom, Onwuachi was toughing it out in the Bronx, facing several difficulties due to the environment and his relationship with his father.
At a very young age, he started to act out and join gangs, which led to his expulsion from several schools before he turned 12. Fearing for his life and future, his mother sent him back home to Nigeria to live with his grandfather, a former Howard University professor, so he could straighten up and fly right.
During his two years in Nigeria, he fell in love with the local cuisine and returned to America with a different perspective on life that made him appreciative of the things he took for granted, but the struggles weren’t over yet.
He faced financial difficulties in his college years, selling drugs and alcohol to make ends meet. In the end, he quit to pursue his love for cooking in the hopes of making a career out of it, “I was good at selling drugs but I wanted to be good at something else,” – FYE Conference 2020
Culinary Education and Career
Onwuachi considers cooking to be part of his DNA. His mother’s catering business was a major influence on him when he was young. “My sister and I had to become her first two employees, and that instilled a lot of things in me at an early age – entrepreneurialism, creativity, and a passion for food — and that formed my career path.” – Salon Talks
Photo Credit: Kwame Onwuachi
In 2010, Onwuachi moved in with his mother in Louisiana, where he picked up jobs at restaurants, doing whatever he could, including working on a Deepwater Horizon clean-up ship in the Gulf of Mexico.
All of these experiences helped to motivate Onwuachi’s career goals as he got feedback about his cooking and was able to refine his skills. After he returned to New York, the dream to have his own restaurant began to fill his mind. To fulfill his dream, Onwuachi started selling candy on trains, and was able to raise enough money to open his first business, Onwuachi’s Coterie Catering.
He enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America and after he graduated, worked at esteemed restaurants like Per Se and Eleven Madison Park. In 2015, Onwuachi gained popularity as a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef (Season 13), and this opened many opportunities for him. He would later return as a guest judge for Season 18.
In November 2016, he opened his dream restaurant, Shaw Bijou in Washington DC, with a $2 million investment, but the restaurant was shut down after just after 11 weeks. Onwuachi had grand plans, and attributed the failure to his ignorance of managing a restaurant at that time, especially financially. ”I was the laughing stock of the industry. But I remembered where I came from; my ancestors were opening restaurants before it was cool to open restaurants.” – FYE Conference 2020
A few months later, he made a comeback when he was hired to operate a new hotel restaurant called Kith and Kin, which served Afro-Caribbean cuisine. Kith and Kin was rated as one of the best restaurants in America by top publications like Esquire, the Washington Post, and the Michelin Guide.
Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi: An Ode to Family and Community
“This is my love letter to New York – written with the flavors, aromas, and textures of my childhood, inspired by my culinary muse (and beloved sister), Tatiana.” – Onwuachi.
In July 2020, Onwuachi resigned from his position to once again pursue his dream of owning his own restaurant. He returned to New York, and in November 2022, Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi was born—a Black-owned, fine-dining restaurant in Lincoln Center. Tatiana was named after Onwuachi’s big sister, who looked after him while their mother worked as a chef in New York City.
Chef Kwame achieved yet another milestone when Tatiana was awarded the No. 1 restaurant in New York City according to The New York Times, and was featured as one of The World’s Best 50 Restaurants in 2023.
Photo credit: Tatiana by Chef Kwame
Tatiana has a main dining room that can be booked via reservation on Resy. The menu includes their signature Short Rib Pastrami Suya, Egusi Soup Dumplings, Braised Oxtails, Mom Duke Shrimp, Curried Goat Patties, and Bodega Special. There’s also an indoor bar and an outdoor patio for walk-ins only. Onwuachi has described the team at Tatiana as family and attributes the success of the restaurant to them as positive reviews keep growing.
In the course of his career as a public figure, Onwuachi has inspired a lot of people, especially kids from the inner cities, by giving talks and speeches as well as supporting causes like No Kid Hungry. ”It’s about determination; it’s about vulnerability. It’s about your successes and failures. That’s what life is about, and that’s what kids need to hear: that it’s not this linear path or an overnight path. It’s really about putting your head down and pushing through those tough moments.” Common Beads
He co-published his memoir “Notes from a Young Black Chef,” which delved deeper into his background, and the cookbook “My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef,” which featured over 120 recipes that celebrate the food of the African diaspora and his multicultural heritage, which speaks of Nigerian, Jamaican, Creole, and Trinidadian ancestry.
Books by Kwame Onwuachi
”Everyone can cook as long as you put a little love in it”, said Onwuachi on Book Your Summer Live. His role as the executive producer at Food & Wine magazine further highlights his influence on the culinary world. He received various awards and recognitions, including Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs,” in 2019, the James Beard Foundation’s “Rising Star Chef of the Year,” Esquire Magazine’s “Chef of the Year, and a 30 Under 30 honoree by both Zagat and Forbes.”