Chef Kwame Onwuachi cooks an eggplant dish during a keynote presentation as part of the Everett Public Library’s “One Everett One Book” program Friday at the Everett Performing Arts Center. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Chef Kwame Onwuachi cooks an eggplant dish during a keynote presentation as part of the Everett Public Library’s “One Everett One Book” program Friday at the Everett Performing Arts Center. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

In Everett visit, acclaimed chef Kwame Onwuachi offers food for thought

The award-winning chef came to the Everett Performing Arts Center for a spicy cooking demo while fielding audience questions.

EVERETT — Kwame Onwuachi is many things: author, TV writer, occasional stand-up comedian, McDonald’s connoisseur. But above all else, he is a chef.

So if you forgot to eat dinner before attending his talk at the Everett Performing Arts Center on Friday, chances are you instantly regretted it.

About 200 people filled the center’s auditorium Friday evening to hear the James Beard Award-winning chef answer questions about his life, work and his recent acclaimed memoir, “Notes From a Young Black Chef.”

The memoir and Onwuachi’s earlier cookbook, “My America,” were both included in the Everett Public Library’s One Everett One Book program, serving as discussion starters along the theme of “Food for Thought.” The library, along with other sponsors, brought Onwuachi to Everett for the talk to wrap up the program.

True to form, he kicked off the event with a cooking demonstration, then took questions at random from the audience for about a half-hour.

Onwuachi spoke of his family’s deep influence on his cooking as he rapidly sliced eggplant for baigan choka, an Indian-influenced, creole-spiced dish from his grandfather’s native Trinidad. Tossing charred tomatoes and lime juice into the sizzling skillet, he said dishes like these always remind him of family holidays, when a mix of their Nigerian, Creole and Caribbean roots would meld into a truly flavorful spread for the table.

“Food was always the great connector for us,” Onwuachi told the crowd. “It was a great way for everyone to spend quality time together. And plus, it was the only time everyone’s mouth is too full to argue.”

He tossed a scotch bonnet pepper, one of the world’s hottest, into the pan, and the spicy, fragrant steam quickly filled the space. A few attendees coughed, others covered their mouths and noses with their shirts.

Onwuachi asked if spicy food was common among Everett foodies.

“Only if you make it at home,” an audience member called out.

Onwuachi, 33, is a fast-rising star in the food world. He was a contestant on Top Chef in 2015, and he has since returned to judge the competition. He’s opened a handful of highly acclaimed restaurants around the country, dealing in such disparate cuisines as French-influenced traditional fine dining to upscale Philly cheesesteaks.

His most recent venture in New York City’s Lincoln Center, Tatiana, serves food inspired by the surrounding city where Onwuachi grew up. His mother was a chef, too, running a catering business from home where Onwuachi, age 5, was her first employee.

When she was busy, his sister Tatiana — the new restaurant’s namesake — took care of Onwuachi, and he constantly begged her for delicacies from the corner bodega. His new venture levels up that corner-store fare into a culinary experience, turning childhood nostalgia into a rich homemade take on the Cosmic Brownie with powdered donut ice cream served alongside.

With his hands so full juggling his many creative endeavors, he still often returns to the simple, quick and cheap comforts of microwave popcorn and cup noodles, Onwuachi said. His memoir is being adapted into a feature film by the production house A24, and he’s spending a lot of time these days reviewing scripts and adding input.

Asked who he’d like to see play him in the movie, Onwuachi joked that Michael B. Jordan was his first choice, despite the actor not being quite handsome enough to fit the bill. Maybe he’d cast all white actors to play his family, just to really throw people off, he said.

But seriously, he said, he wants to see a fellow rising star, British actor Damson Idris, take the role. And casting his family would be a tall order, since he wants to get the sensibilities and humor that shaped him just right.

“In everything I do, I want to keep it real to my experience,” Onwuachi said. “With cooking and with everything else, I think influences are good to keep on your sleeves as long as they’re authentic. That’s all that matters to me.”

Riley Haun: 425-339-3192; riley.haun@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @RHaunID.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

Everett Herald staff gather and talk in the newsroom after layoff announcements on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘This breaks my heart’: Over half of Everett Herald news staff laid off

A dozen journalists were handed walking papers Wednesday, in a wave of layoffs mandated by new owners, Carpenter Media Group.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Long live the Speedway! Mukilteo’s main drag won’t be renamed

The public shot down the mayor’s idea to change the name: 77% voted ‘No’ in an online survey, with 95% opposed on Facebook.

Everett
Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.