To say that Kwame Onwuachi has arrived would be an understatement. With the enormous success of his restaurant Tatiana, dubbed one of the most impossible places to get a reservation in New York, Onwuachi is building something that’s never been done before in Lincoln Center. The same can be said for his annual Family Reunion event in partnership with Food & Wine and Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Virginia.
Family Reunion is equal parts feast, food for thought, and fun—with lots to partake in. This year’s multi-day celebration featured performances by artists including Jon B. and Juvenile, as well as panel discussions touching on topics like wealth building, the business of being a chef, and an exploration of soul food. There were also food demos on BBQ and jerk food and an interactive “Chopped” competition. Food historian and High on the Hog star Dr. Jessica B. Harris was honored this year and participated in an intimate breakout session moderated by Bon Appetit’s new editor-in-chief Jamila Robinson. Top Chef andThe Chew star Carla Hall led a yoga session and, in true tradition, slayed on the dance floor during the annual Block Party event. It’s all part of the one-of-a-kind opportunity for those in attendance to come together as a community for celebration and collaboration. As Onwuachi likes to say, people leave as family.
The event has just about doubled in size since its inception in 2021. Onwuachi himself understands the significance of Family Reunion for chefs of color like himself, and he’s intent on keeping it going and growing it bigger and better each year. Of this year’s event, which took place August 17-20, Onwuachi shares, “I think we went in with a little more intentionality of bringing people together and uplifting each other, uniting each other and being consistent in our values. There’s a different energy about it this year that feels like a revival of sorts.” This year’s attendee list included Onwuachi’s mother, Jewel Robinson, to whom he dedicated his cookbook My America: Recipes From A Young Black Chef.
The relationships built from Family Reunion don’t stop after the four days of programming. Case in point: Onwuachi will open a new restaurant at Salamander’s Washington D.C. location next year. He’s thrilled about keeping operations in the “family.”
“Family for me is not just blood,” he says. “It’s chosen. It’s easier to go far with a group of people than it is to be alone. That’s what the ethos of [Family Reunion] is really about.”
Sweet July spoke with some of the featured talent for this year’s Family Reunion to discuss what makes the event so special to them and what it represents for the community and the culture.
What inspires you to keep participating in Family Reunion?
Preston Clark, Corporate Executive Chef & Culinary Director, Lure Fishbar, New York, Chicago, South Beach:
“I’m great friends with Chef Kwame. I really want to make sure that I’m supporting him. [Family Reunion] is a great event to really showcase some of the African-American chefs of the United States and experience the different foods that these chefs have to offer. It’s a really wide variety of flavors and styles. And, it’s inspirational.”
Andre Fowles, Culinary Consultant, Miss Lily’s Caribbean Restaurant, New York & Negril Jamaica:
“The first word that comes to mind is community. When it comes to chefs of color, chefs of the West Indian, Afro-Caribbean and Southern diaspora, having a platform to really talk about their culture and their food [is what] Kwame has provided. And it’s not just being here to cook good food, but it’s also to communicate and to network with other people within this community. This event makes you feel whole.”
How does Family Reunion both feed and fuel the collective?
Robin McBride, Co-Founder, McBride Sisters Wine Company:
“I can’t think of anywhere else where you get this level of mastery all in one place. And at the same time, it does feel like a family reunion. We never get to all be together in this way, and own the event and own this space. We own the narrative. We discuss things that are important to us. We share our viewpoints. As far as I know, there is not another avenue where we can share and be honest and be ourselves and be collaborative. It’s just really unique. And I don’t think that any of us ever really thought it could exist.”
JR Robinson, Chef & Co-owner, KitchenCray, Maryland & D.C.:
“I feel like this event propels us forward. And if you look at it, these are all the greatest Black chefs around the world. So, this is technically the greatest restaurant in the world this weekend. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
What do you love the most about coming to the Family Reunion?
Lamar Moore, Executive Chef, Bronzeville Winery, Chicago:
“What I love most is seeing the smiles on people’s faces. As chefs, we love working with each other. But when we’re up on a stage and we get to see the crowd, [and] they’re super excited about the food and the beverage that we put out, that’s the key for me. People are always happy. They’re excited to be here.”
“I legitimately love the level of talent that is here. I know when I come to the front door, I’m going to see all of these amazing people who I have developed friendships with over the years. Everybody here is creating the future of food and wine. We make the trends, we innovate. I believe the connections and conversations that are being had here are shaping what’s coming next in the culinary space.”