An Effusive Chef Opens a Neighborhood Jewel
Chef Kwame Onwuachi’s philosophy about food is that it should tell a story. “When a dish has a story, it has a soul,” he says.
Many of you may recognize the renowned 26-year-old master chef as the survivor of 10 of 13 episodes of Top Chef, a popular cooking show on Bravo.
Chef Kwame is from The Bronx and is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in NYC, where he got his classical training in French cuisine.
He is busy working on the final details necessary to open his restaurant on November 1. The 32-seat Shaw Bijou (bijou means ‘jewel' in French)– is housed in a beautifully restored Italianate-style row house in the historic Shaw neighborhood.
Serving a multi-course tasting menu Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 until 10 p.m., the restaurant will operate on a ticket-based reservation system. Guests can purchase tickets on the restaurant website starting Aug. 29. The cost is $185 per person, plus tax, service, and beverage options. For more information, visit theshawbijou.com.
The restaurant will feature American cuisine, enhanced with flavorful notes from the chef’s own nostalgic childhood memories of the taste of his mother’s cooking with fresh twists from other cultures. He describes this as the foundation of his style of cooking. “That’s why we like the food we do,” he added. “You keep coming back to it; it gives you comfort.”
He has traveled the world and learned about different cooking styles, which he brings to The Shaw Bijou.”I want to explore food, using all the things I learned in my travels. I like cooking small, interesting dishes with intimate details, making use of the opportunities I’ve been given to explore different foods.”
Dining at the Shaw Bijou will be a full multi-course experience, with diners moving through different rooms for different courses. Food and libations will be customized for each diner –the ultimate in fine dining, with a cost to match. (Tickets are $185 per person.)
On Launching in DC
Chef Kwame chose D.C. because of his love for the city. “My grandfather taught at Howard, and I spent many summers in this place.” He also noted that he wanted to do something outside of New York City.
The chef’s favorite hangout is El Rinconcito Café, in northwest, a Salvadoran, tex-mex joint that serves simple fare.
“I enjoy taking a walk to El Rinconcito. I love the food there.”
On His Road To Success
Chef Kwame's journey started with his mother. At a young age, he began helping with her catering business (which she now operates in New Orleans). A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park Onwuachi aims to bring a fresh perspective to the Washington D.C. food scene. Zagat D.C. has named him a “rock star redefining the industry” for its inaugural 30 under 30 list. He moved on to running his own catering business while attending culinary school and had a short stint in business school. An alum of Eleven Madison Park, he is bringing his act to D.C.
He attributes his success to his mother, who he still calls regularly for advice on life. “I’m inspired by her perseverance. She’s my rock and my mentor,” he explained. He credits Bruce Mattel, a renowned chef and professor at the Culinary Institute of America as his other mentor.
Chef Kwame says his dream is simple—to take care of his family. He remains very close to his mother and sister and her kids and wants to make sure they always have everything they need.
His Advice to Would-Be Chefs
“It’s tough being an entrepreneur,” said the prodigious chef, who operated a successful catering company at age 20. “But it’s always rewarding. It’s all about taking a risk and not being afraid to fail.”
He encourages those of you foodies who would love to be chefs to follow your intuition. He is a strong proponent of learning by doing. “Follow your heart. There are so many aspects of the food industry. You don’t have to be a fine dining chef or a caterer. You have to be happy.”
Illustration by Sonia Polyzos