What do you get when you marry Afrofuturism with food?
A match made in Diaspora heaven.
Bronze, a new(ish) afrofuturistic restaurant created by DC native and restaurateur Keem Hughley, brings afrofuturism to the forefront through its unique African inspired culinary dishes. Afrofuturism — a genre that centers Black history and culture and incorporates science-fiction, technology, and futuristic elements into literature, music, and the visual arts — often uses current social movements or popular culture as a backdrop. It focuses on works that examine the past, question the present, or imagine an optimistic future, and are meant to inspire a sense of pride in their audience.
Afrofuturism can be credited to literary greats like Octavia Butler and visual artists like Basquiat — and now it is synonymous with Keem Hughley when it comes to food.
From the African diaspora art on its walls commissioned from Nigerian artist Alabi Mwoya to the unique culinary palette from innovative and renowned executive chef Toya Henry, critics have called Bronze “one of the most interesting restaurants to open in a while.”
“My love for food is that it is oftentimes the centerpiece for gatherings, and important moments that we share in our lives,” says Hughley. “You can learn so much about people and their uniqueness by sharing food together around a dinner table. Chef Toya’s family story of food is much deeper, and the heartbeat of the menu.”
The three-story, 150-seat, Afrofuturistic fine dining experience is set in the heart of Washington D.C.’s H Street corridor. Hughley brings 15-years of experience as a hospitality industry expert, and deemed it necessary to bring to life the story of Alonzo Bronze, a fictional traveler (created by Hughley) who traveled for 700 years, trading cooking techniques and spices throughout the world.
“When I read Ytasha Womack’s book [Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture], I had to keep putting it down because I just didn’t know it was possible to think in this format,” says Hughley. “It was an awakening moment for me in my creative and personal life and created the vessel for me to tell the story of traveler Alonzo Bronze.”
Toya Henry, the executive chef behind the eclectic menu at Bronze, left her job as a former fashion editor and stylist in New York to pursue her dreams within the culinary space. “I was introduced to Chef Toya by Chef Erik Bruner-Yang,” shares Hughley. “When I originally told Erik about the idea, he recommended that I connect with Toya and see if she would be interested in joining the team. I traveled to New York, and we met in the lobby of the 1 Hotel Brooklyn. The rest is history!”
The family-style menu draws from her Caribbean heritage (her dad is from Jamaica, her mom from Barbados), her world travels from Asia to the Caribbean, and even conversations she documented about food with Uber drivers hailing from all over the world.
Representing diasporic communities around the world, from Africa to the Caribbean, Brazil and South America, Bronze reimagines traditional diasporic ingredients like rice, into elevated dishes. The heirloom carrots, served with cabbage and a pesto base, honor the history of the African diaspora with a futuristic, creative spin, while the showstopper is the braised oxtail with pappardelle.
“We are a spectrum of people that have different interests, and we should be able to creatively express this in the marketplace,” says Hughley. “Our social conditions have put expectations on us that we can absolutely shatter to pieces. I remember seeing Sun Ra’s band perform live, and it was mind-blowing. The notes and rhythmic synergy were secondary, and all that mattered was the intention that they played from. I try to use this as practice in our day-to-day dealings at the restaurant.”
Bronze is located at 1245 H St. NE and is open Monday – Saturday from 5 p.m. – 12 a.m. and Sundays from 5-10 p.m.