Peeling shrimp and preparing vegetables was commonplace for Kwame Onwuachi as a young boy while helping his mom out with her home catering business from their apartment in the Bronx. Kith/Kin at the InterContinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf creator and Executive Chef, 28-year-old Kwame Onwuachi is at the forefront of high-end Afro-Caribbean dining in “Chocolate City”. Actually, this is the only known restaurant of Afro-Caribbean cuisine that has been done in this fashion in an upscale restaurant in the district.
When you walk into the venue, you are immediately warmed by the light-flooded 3,500 square foot restaurant. The décor is swathed with warm gold, cream, and black tones; floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to stunning waterfront views of the Potomac; a wine wall featuring over 300 bottles of wine; and a large custom mural from local artist Meg Biram featuring bold, painted quotes from his mother and from chefs that Onwuachi admires.
Onwuachi has an impressive background: he is a Top Chef alum (2016) and Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park graduate. Despite being trained in mainstream institutes, Onwuachi knew Kith/Kin would give him a chance to explore his diverse ethnic background and bring his Bronx, New York roots to the surface. He designed the menu after his parent’s Afro-Caribbean heritage: Nigerian, Jamaican, West African, Trinidadian, and Creole of New Orleans.
“I wanted to cook my people’s food,” emphasizes a smiling Onwuachi. “You don’t see African and Caribbean food in major hotels, and I wanted people to have an upscale venue where you didn’t have to go to a hole in the wall place for oxtails and other Afro-Caribbean cuisine.”
A day in the life in running a restaurant is real for the young chef. For Onwuachi, the day starts early in the morning coming in for breakfast service and checking on the station’s mise en place. “This means making sure all of the stations are prepped with their ingredients, says Onwuachi. “For example, the burger station should have all of the ingredients laid out to prep for the burger: lettuce, buns, tomatoes, et cetera.”
“My food deliveries usually come in at 9 am so I receive those,” says Onwuachi. “After that, we wrap up breakfast and go directly into lunch service, and I will usually have a few meetings during lunch but continue to expedite throughout.” After lunch, his dinner crew arrives and immediately begins to prep: “I help where needed and then we have our pre-shift meeting,” he says. “After pre-shift we go into dinner service. That lasts until about 11 pm. We clean the kitchen, go home and do it all over again!”
This diligent process makes perfect sense as no detail is spared in the creation of Onwuachi’s delicious dishes. If you have a chance to dine there, make sure you try Kith/Kin’s African-inspired Jollof Rice or the fragrant Creole spice-infused Mom Dukes Peel and Eat Shrimp. For those that are West Indian or at least take many trips to the Caribbean, try the menu’s Caribbean-centric Goat Roti with Dal Puri, Curried Goat, and a Tamarind Chick Pea Puree and be transported back to the islands.
You can see the look of pleasure on guest’s faces when one of the most popular menu items arrives – whole fried snapper with brown stew sauce. The elaborate 3-D dish looks like it’s molded, sculpted, and frozen in time in the most sumptuous way. “It actually was inspired by a trip to my fiancé’s parents’ house,” says Chef Onwuachi. “Her father (from Montserrat) had cooked a similar dish and I just put my spin on it.”
To get your drink on during dinner at Kith/Kin (or if popping in for a quick meeting at the bar), try some of their Caribbean-inspired cocktails. You may not feel sand between your toes while you sip, but you can definitely enjoy punches like the Papa Bois with Bulleit Rye and Coconut Water and Pineapple Shrub Flavored with Degroff’s Pimento Bitters to end the night on a good note.