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Paid PostUpdated on Sep 4, 2020. Posted on Sep 4, 2020

6 Amazing Black Chefs All Foodies Should Know About

We spoke to six Black chefs and restaurateurs who are making waves in the culinary industry. They shared some of their struggles and successes, and what makes them love the restaurant industry.

1. Brittney Hawkins-Dobard, owner of NoLa Cookie Co. in New Orleans, LA

Brittney Hawkins-Dobard

Why did you decide to become a chef/restaurateur?

Brittany Hawkins-Dobard: "Being born and raised in the home of the world’s best food and flavors, my love for food is ingrained. Growing up, I spent as much time as I could soaking up every flavor and skill I could from my grandmother. I loved every moment, tasting and helping. Being in this industry was welcomingly inevitable for me. Having the opportunity to share my passion for flavor infused with love has been a dream. I’m honored to be able to serve gourmet treats alongside my family in our hometown."

What is your favorite dish on your menu?

BHD: "Our red velvet cookie is my absolute favorite. I really love them all, but I’m in love with the texture and flavor of that cookie the most. They’re addicting; I had to set a strict limit for myself."

What is the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome in the restaurant industry?

BHD: "We’ve been in the industry for a little over a year. Our biggest hurdle thus far has been trying to find innovative ways to survive this pandemic. There’s beloved restaurants all over the country and our city closing permanently. It’s heartbreaking. Our ability to adapt quickly, integrate, and utilize new technologies while maintaining quality products and service has helped us thrive during this very trying time."

Is there anything else you want us to know?

BHD: "We are a locally-owned and family-operated business driven off passion for our products and people. We love what we do and you’ll taste it."

2. Guma Fassil, owner of Ethiopia Restaurant in Berkeley, CA

Guma Fassil

Why did you decide to become a chef/restaurateur?

Guma Fassil: "I became an aspiring restaurateur at age 5 when my mother opened Ethiopia Restaurant in 1993. Since then, I've had every job in the industry from busboy to restaurant owner, falling in love with the whole process."

What is your favorite dish on your menu?

GF: "When I feel like eating a protein-rich vegan meal to keep me light on my feet, I always go with the famous veggie combo. When I feel like eating a generously portioned carnivorous meal, I go with the meat combo, which is a sampler platter of our beef, lamb, and chicken stew."

What is the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome in the restaurant industry?

GF: "I'd have to say the biggest hurdle I've had to overcome in this industry is simply being thrust into it last year when my mother passed away unexpectedly. She was a pillar in the community, and without the support from family, friends, and loyal patrons, I don't believe I would have been able to continue the business."

Is there anything else you want us to know?

GF: "We'd like to thank all of the customers...for the continued support during this trying time. We are currently open for business, however we are going through a big rebrand with substantial renovations to our storefront. We cannot wait to showcase all of the new improvements under our new name Meskie's, named after our fallen matriarch, in the coming months!"

3. Carolyn and Quinn Dunn, co-owners and chefs of Carolyn Quinn's Southern Comfort Food in McDonough, GA

Carolyn and Quinn Dunn

Why did you decide to become a chef/restaurateur?

Quinn Dunn: "We both started cooking at a young age and continued to do so into adulthood, but mainly for friends and family and for their special occasions. Many family game nights became 'test kitchen' nights with our children. One of the rules was, good or bad, you had to taste each other's concoctions. Luckily the good far outweighed the bad and as entrepreneurs already, we decided to try our hand at the restaurant business."

What is your favorite dish on your menu?

QD: "Carolyn’s is the baked chicken, while mine is the fried fish, but we both agree on the macaroni and cheese and collard greens as the number one accompaniment!"

What is the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome in the restaurant industry?

QD: "There’s a long-standing stereotype of 'soul food' being sold from a small shack in the seediest part of town and primarily to people of color. We’ve had the pleasure of catering to corporate figures and personalities of considerable status who were nothing less than shocked that food so beautifully plated could also taste delicious... We’re well on our way in the dream of dispelling that presumption by establishing an upscale dining concept for Henry County, Georgia, and the surrounding area, and this little restaurant is the first step. So the biggest hurdle is yet to be overcome."

Is there anything else you want us to know?

QD: "As with music, we find food to be universal. More times than we can count it’s been a segue to comfortable discussions on uncomfortable topics, crossing racial barriers and exceeding all expectations. Not to mention, it's led to intimate friendships with people anticipating to only be customers. It’s been said a couple can’t argue with their lips pressed together. Try doing it with a mouthful of peach cobbler. 😳"

4. Lookman Mashood, owner and head chef of Buka in Brooklyn, NY

Lookman Mashood

Why did you decide to become a chef/restaurateur?

Lookman Mashood: "I was once a chef and manager...at one Nigerian joint on Washington Avenue. This was in 1996. My cooking was so popular. ... So when I left the place in 1998, people asked me when I was going to open my own restaurant. I always said, 'when the time is right.' There were a few Nigerian restaurants at that time, but most of them were not (places) where you could take a friend. I mean, real hole-in-the-wall. So I promised to take this stuff to another level because I believe in it. ... When the time permitted between me and my beautiful girlfriend then, Natalie Goldberg, we created Buka New York, an authentic Nigerian (restaurant) in the heart of Brooklyn, and, of course, you can bring everyone (here)."

What is your favorite dish on your menu?

LM: "Okra soup is my favorite as of now. It’s okra cooked with smoked fish, stockfish, crayfish, and goat, spiced up with our traditional spices. It’s served with different fufu. I prefer the amala fufu. Interesting stuff."

What is the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome in the restaurant industry?

LM: "Running a restaurant in New York is a big challenge. ... The regulation is also crazy. The only reason why I’m still in business is because I can do almost all that needs to be done to keep (the restaurant) open. I’m the head chef and I love to cook whenever my health permits. ... I’m a self-taught chef, courtesy of my grandmother, so whenever we (have) staff issues, we're just getting down (and) getting stuff done. As a restaurant owner, you need a lot of patience with staff and, of course, the customers. It’s called a hospitality industry for a real reason. We (have) to manage different people and whatever they throw at us, but so far, so good. It’s been great."

Is there anything else you want us to know?

LM: "I must say this clearly: Nigerian food is not influenced by anyone, rather it influenced most food around the world. ... The English were not able to colonize our food. ... So when you eat my food, it’s a meal from the beginning of time."

5. Earl Chinn, chef and original owner of Negril in Washington, DC, as relayed to his son, Kevin Chinn (current owner)

Earl Chinn

Why did you decide to become a chef/restaurateur?

Earl Chinn: "I was born and raised in Jamaica before I went to college in Montreal. I eventually moved to the US to NYC and saw many Jamaican restaurants and a lot of Jamaican culture. I finally decided to move to Washington, DC in the late '70s, and while I saw many Jamaicans living in DC, the culture was lacking and especially pertaining to restaurants... I had no culinary or cooking experience outside of cooking for myself. I went to college and got a business degree. It was really a business that I started and I learned on the fly. I have been very blessed to get a lot of help along the way, so I don't want to make it seem like I figured it all out on my own."

What is your favorite dish on your menu?

EC: "Oxtail is my favorite. It is a dish that was once regarded as a throwaway item that nobody ever wanted. Now it is one of the most expensive and sought after cuts of cow you can obtain. You either cook it for hours or pressure cook it to get that fall off the bone/melt in your mouth–type of texture. All of our dishes come with rice and peas as well, which is a must with oxtail."

What is the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome in the restaurant industry?

EC: "Biggest hurdle is always food consistency and service... Especially when we were blessed enough to expand the operation to more than one location — four currently — it can be a curse at times too because that's four times as many problems than can arise. It has been challenging to get consistency from store to store at times, but I think within the last five years we've really done a better job with my two sons joining the business after college and reinforcing the best parts of the business — both with our customer service and with the consistency of the food..."

Is there anything else you want us to know?

EC: "For me, appearance was always very important. A lot of people taste with their eyes if they are actually in the store and see something. Nowadays (they) can see everything online too, so having that nice visual impression is so important to invite people to try our food."

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Images via Getty.