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The District Wharf’s Kith and Kin

Kwame Onwuachi is back. This past October, he unveiled his highly anticipated Kith and Kin in the sprawling District Wharf. The successor to his short-lived Shaw Bijou, Kwame’s 96-seat, Afro-Caribbean restaurant is ensconced in the stylish InterContinental Hotel.
“The process of bringing Kith and Kin to life has been a very exciting, rewarding, and a personal endeavor for me,” said Onwuachi. “I’m thrilled to share this chapter of my story in Washington with locals and visitors…especially at The Wharf with its rich history. This food is a celebration of my heritage, and I strongly believe that the representation of these cuisines – many of which have direct connections to each other – has long been missing from our dining scene.”

The moniker Kith and Kin…
…refers to Onwuachi’s multi-ethnic ancestry, as he draws on his Caribbean, Creole, and African cultural roots. He was born in the Bronx a mere 27 years ago. Besides spending a few years in Nigeria with his grandfather — where “I was taught invaluable lessons about respecting food, including every single ingredient from raising animals and produce to paying respect to the animals used for meals” — he also lived in New Orleans with other family members and learned to enjoy and appreciate Louisiana’s Creole cuisine.
“I grew up a Creole, Nigerian, and Jamaican in the Bronx,” he told Eater DC. “If it weren’t for the stories of my ancestors and my parents making sure I understood, I wouldn’t be here (in the food world) today…It’s time I honored that. I’m looking forward to sharing these beautiful cuisines with our guests, educating them, enlightening their palates, and [providing] memorable dining experiences.”

At age 21…
…Onwuachi founded Coterie Catering company, inspired by his caterer mom, Jewel Robinson. He says his constant exposure to food while growing up had a positive impact. “Most kids watched the Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon,” he recalled. “All I’d watch was the Food Network, the original ‘Iron Chef,’ and clips of Julia Child. I just loved it.”
After attending Cardinal Spellman High School and the Bronx Leadership Academy, he followed his mother to Louisiana in 2009. While there, Onwuachi cooked on a boat for oil spill relief workers. Then, he returned to New York to start his catering business.

By then…
…there was no stopping this aspiring culinary star. Besides completing a successful stint on Top Chef, he wielded his whisk at New York’s acclaimed Eleven Madison Park. In November, 2016, Onwuachi unveiled Shaw Bijou in Washington’s thriving Shaw neighborhood. In his splashy debut, he showcased an ambitious $185, 15-course tasting menu. He soon dropped the price, but after two and a half months and less than stellar reviews, Shaw Bijou abruptly folded. But Onwuachi wasn’t giving up. Instead, he learned from his experience, regrouped, and reinvented his concept. He honed his skills, developing new dishes at local pop-ups. For example: Teaming up with an old friend from New York, chef Hiyaw Gebreyohannes, he briefly operated an Ethiopian-inspired stall in Union Market called Gorsha.

Vive la difference…
Kith and Kin is quite different from his previous endeavor. Kith and Kin is more casual. The décor is muted, with shades of beige and grey. Placemats look woven, perhaps a nod to Africa. Bar stools are comfy, with padded seats and backs. A wine wall — holding nearly 400 bottles —looms between the main dining area and a private party space. Artist Emily Eisenhart’s enormous black and white mural, featuring chefs’ quotes, dominates a back wall.
While less expensive than Shaw Bijou, Kith and Kim is still not cheap. Lunch for two, as this writer experienced, can run close to $100. In contrast to many restaurants’ gargantuan helpings, Kith and Kin’s portions are small. A $29 “meat and cheese” tasting is a black plate dabbed with smoked chicken pate and quince jam, a swirl of jerk duck prosciutto, and rounds of cheeses. However, presentation is dramatic. A server hoists a glass cone from the plate with a flourish, releasing a cloud of aromatic smoke, yielding a memorable experience.
Entrée portions might include a pair of “torched” mackerel pieces, accompanied by tongue-tingling, golden-hued jollof rice. Heartier options feature oxtail stew and curried goat. Veteran bartender Zachery Hoffman’s innovative cocktails — including “gin and reggae” (concocted from Jamaican rum, Plymouth gin, and mango tea) — are tagged in the mid-teens as are wines-by-the glass.

Mom as guide and inspiration…
“Mom always said, ‘You’re only as good as your last event,’ and it’s true,” he said. As Kwame Onwuachi settles into his new restaurant, he cites his mother and her struggles as his inspiration. “I thought, if she could do it as a single mom with two kids in New York City, there’s no reason I couldn’t. My mom’s the person I look up to most. She’s my hero.”

LOCATED AT 801 WHARF ST., SW (InterContinental Hotel), Kith and Kin is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Call 202-878-8600 or visit www.kithandkindc.com.

Celeste McCall
CULINARY CORRESPONDENT

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