From Candyman to Caterer to Chef: Chronicles of a Young Chef (Part Two)

This is the second in a series by Kwame Onwuachi chronicling his story about finding his passion as a young chef. To read Part One, click here.

I went to college for Business Administration because that was the right thing to do, not because I loved it. When you decide to do something because it’s the right thing to do, at least in my case, you end up feeling like you are wasting time and money. So, I left The University of Bridgeport with a lot of student loans after two years. I needed a change of scenery and my mother had recently moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, so I decided that I’d give it a try.

Growing up in New York, I didn’t encounter as much racism as you do down south. Basically, some kitchens interpreted my desire to work as a cook for a desire to wash dishes. I am definitely not the type to “fall in line,” so I ended up working on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico as a cook for the oil spill workers during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Eventually, after the spill was cleaned, I moved back to New York City where I felt like I was existing to wait tables.

One day, I happened to be walking around SoHo and checking out some new shops in the area when I came across one store. I headed in and began to strike up a conversation with one of the employees, or so I thought. It happened to be the owner of the store, and she was telling me how she was interested in finding a caterer for her store’s grand opening. In a very confident tone, I told her that she needed to look no further and that I was the person she was looking for. Because of my age, she didn’t believe me and asked if we could set up a tasting. I told her that in addition to setting up a tasting I would cater the event for free as long as she covered the cost of the food. We agreed to these conditions and, most importantly, to the menu. Mini cheesecakes, seared filet mignon topped with bleu cheese crème frâiche, and butternut squash wontons with a plum dipping sauce.

I had never made any of these items in my life, but I would give it a try, so I stayed up all night trying to perfect a cheesecake and the rest of these dishes. It was about 5 o’clock in the morning, the sound of the city just starting to awaken crept in through the window, and that’s when I found my passion for cooking. I had stayed up all night for something that I was not getting paid for or procrastinating about, rather I was genuinely enjoying myself. I remember thinking, “This is what it feels like to live.” I went on to do the tasting, and she loved it. I soon after became the official caterer of the store and opened my own catering company.

But, that wouldn’t come without some obstacles.

To read Part Three of Kwame's story, stay tuned to tomorrow's post.

Photo: John Robinson