From the New York Times:
Race/Related is a weekly newsletter focused on race and identity, with provocative stories from around The New York Times.
When Kwame Onwuachi announced that dinner at Shaw Bijou, his multimillion-dollar dream restaurant in Washington, would cost $185 a person, critics balked. “Who was I, the city’s critic class howled, to charge so much?” Mr. Onwuachi writes in the introduction to his new memoir, “Notes From a Young Black Chef.”
That’s a very good question.
Mr. Onwuachi cut his teeth in some of the most respected restaurants in the country. He was on “Top Chef,” and worked at Per Se and Eleven Madison Park. But he also grew up in the Bronx and was smoking Newport Lights and getting high by the time he was 10. He was a bad student. He was black.
Anyone who charges nearly $200 a person for dinner is going to raise eyebrows, but especially if that person grew up black and poor and had never had a more exalted position in a restaurant than line cook.
Mr. Onwuachi was suddenly a hot young chef with investors behind him, but he was still very much an outsider. So who exactly was he, a 29-year-old black man, to charge so much for dinner?
The question made me think of the assumptions that we make about who belongs where and how ambitious outsiders and minorities are allowed to be when they enter elite spaces that historically excluded them — in this case, fine dining. If it weren’t Mr. Onwuachi charging $185 a person for dinner, surely it would be someone else — and chances are, that person would not be black.
Shaw Bijou is now closed. It flopped after just 11 weeks. But Mr. Onwuachi continues to cook food informed by his identity and experience as a black man.
The New York Times increasingly reads like a high school newspaper. This piece, for example, is exactly like what the smart girl with glasses who works on her high school paper writes about the cool boy she secretly has a crush on.