In honor of Black History Month, I thought I would highlight five Black female chefs who are totally crushing the food industry right now. Some you may have read about, or seen on TV. Hopefully, you’ve been lucky enough to taste their amazing food. If not, a road trip or two might be in order. These five chefs are doing some of the most dynamic cooking I’ve tasted in a long time.
Aside from peanut butter, one of my favorite things to binge on is competitive cooking shows: Iron Chef, Chopped, Hell’s Kitchen–you name it, I’ve probably seen every episode. That’s why I have to give props to Chef Dorian Hunter: the first Black woman to win MasterChef (Season 10, to be exact!). Originally from Canton, OH, Chef Hunter honed her cooking chops at Le Cordon Bleu, as well as McIntosh College, in New Hampshire. These days, Chef Hunter continues to make a name for herself in the private event world, even offering online cooking classes. I definitely need to sign up for one–you’re never too old to learn some new cooking skills!
Kia Diamond is a New York-based chef who appeared on one of my other favorite cooking shows: Chopped. At just 24 years old, Diamond became the Head Chef at Lalito, a now-closed (and sorely missed) chef-driven Mexican restaurant here in New York. More recently, the Florida native has been establishing culinary nonprofits like Auxilio and Kia Feeds the People. Both organizations are dedicated to battling “food apartheid”: the lack of healthy and affordable food options as a result of systemic racism.
I’ve written about Mariya Moore Russell before, but I can’t get enough of her work. Luckily, the first Black female chef to head a Michelin-starred kitchen (that would be Kikko, in Chicago) is working on some exciting new projects. After doing some amazing pop-ups in her hometown of Detroit, she has returned to Chicago to introduce a new pop-up concept called “Connie’s Underground.” On her Instagram, Moore-Russell describes the pop-up as “A liberation project and supper club based around living intentionally.” I can’t wait to go back to my home state and try it!
While many of the chefs in this piece are young and still very active, I have to give credit to the trailblazers. And they don’t come more trailblaze-y (we’ll just pretend that’s a word) than Lena Richard, the first Black female chef to host a televised cooking show. “Lena Richard’s New Orleans Cook Book” (based on her actual New Orleans Cook Book) aired from 1949 to 1950 on WDSU-TV in her hometown of New Orleans. And while the show only aired for a year (sadly, Richard died in 1950) its influence can still be felt. Aside from her TV and publishing ventures, Richard also ran a successful catering business, several New Orleans restaurants, and even a line of frozen foods. That she achieved such staggering success in the Jim Crow South is all the more remarkable.
As my friends will tell you, I follow the James Beard Awards with the same enthusiasm that movie buffs follow the Academy Awards (they are the “foodie Oscars” after all). That’s why I was thrilled when, in 2022, my girl Mashama Bailey became the first Black woman to win the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef. Three years prior, she won the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Southeast” for her work at The Grey–a seasonal Southern restaurant in Savannah, GA. Chef Bailey – an NYC native – is still in Savannah, cooking amazing meals at The Grey. But Bailey and her team have been busy with other exciting projects as well: last year they opened The Grey Market in Austin, TX and – later this year – they will open a yet-to-be-named Southern restaurant in…drum roll…Paris! France’s best chefs have been opening restaurants here in the States for decades; it’s about time we repaid the kindness.
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