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9 Black Chefs Changing The Food Game

These chefs are slaying for the culture and for the love of cooking.

Life & Travel

We all love a good plate of food, and whether you're a vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or still deciding, you can't deny the heavenly feeling of sitting down to eat a well-prepared meal. As black women, we have always been innovators in the kitchen, whether it's making leftovers seem like they're brand new, creating fabulous meals out of bare-bones groceries, turning cooking savvy into successful businesses, or changing the food game altogether. Here are 9 black female chefs who have done just that, using their culinary prowess to win in business and in the kitchen:

Sunny Anderson

A military vet, she's got more than 15 years under her belt serving as a professional chef, and she's hosted several hit shows including Food Network's Cooking for Real, and The Kitchen. She's also a New York Times best-selling cookbook author and creator of Infadium, a fun snack holder sold at Party City and on Amazon. Her dishes combine everyday food with the diverse tastes and flavors of her international travels.

Kelis

We all know her as the Grammy-winning, gloriously curly-haired singer who had Neptunes-produced hits, but Kelis has done a total career change as a fab farmer and chef. She hosted Netflix's Cooked with Cannabis, launched her own line of food products called Bounty & Full, wrote a best-selling cookbook, and has expanded the brand to include Gold Mine boxes that literally sell out in minutes after being announced via her IG page. Kelis favors unique ingredients that reflect her Puerto Rican and African-American background.

Kardea Brown

Kardea Brown is the host of Food Network's Delicious Miss Brown, where she shares southern cuisine from her South Carolina kitchen. Of Gullah/Geechee descent, Brown infuses the culture of African-Americans of the coastal region like beef and okra stew, Gullah red rice, and "Charleston-style" shrimp and grits.

Nyesha Arrington

Nyesha Arrington brings her Afro-Korean heritage to the dishes she creates and was introduced to foods like bulgogi, octopus, and kimchi at an early age, helping to diversify her palate. She's appeared on Top Chef, opened two restaurants, LA: Leone and Native, and has done successful international pop-ups. She now runs her own full-service chef consulting and catering service.

Mashama Bailey

A James Beard award-winning chef, Mashama Bailey brings Bronx swag and grit to the South with her dishes that incorporate history and culture. She's the executive chef and partner at The Grey, a restaurant in downtown Savannah, GA that is built inside a 1938 art deco Greyhound Bus terminal. The dishes include traditional Sunday dinner classics with a refined twist that might inspire you to take your own fried chicken meal up a notch.

Nina Compton

Nina Compton is another alumnus of Top Chef, and her roots go back to the shores of Saint Lucia. Compton, also a James Beard award-winner, served as a chef in some of the best restaurants in New York and Miami before opening her own restaurant in New Orleans called Compere Lapin, offering flavors of the Caribbean, Italy and France on the menu. She then went on to co-found Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans. She also serves as the Culinary Ambassador of Saint Lucia.

Kia Damon

Kia Damon came on the scene as a young self-taught phenom who made headlines at 24 when she became head chef at the chic New York eatery Lalito. She's also dominated Chopped this year and became the first culinary director at Cherry Bombe magazine. She also hosts an IG-based show called "On the Line" where she highlights leaders in the culinary space as well as culture's link to cuisine, activism, identity, and lifestyle issues. On top of that, Kia has launched Auxilio Space, a New York-based community platform that provides services, support, and jobs for queer, trans, Black and indigenous communities, in collaboration with nightlife and hospitality leaders Zacarías González and Mohammed Fayaz.

Kiki Bokungu Louya

Born and raised in Detroit with Congolese roots, Kiki Louya is the founder of two award-winning food concepts called Folk, and The Farmer's Hand that supported fair treatment of food and farm workers. She also founded Nest Egg Detroit, America's first all women-owned hospitality group.

Mariya Russell

As lead chef at Chicago's Kikko, Mariya Russell made history in 2019 as the first black female chef to head a Michelin-starred kitchen. The restaurant is special in that it's an omakase, a Japanese concept where the sushi chef decides what you will eat and provides multiple courses of delectable goodies, making for a unique dining experience. She's known for using ingredients such as shiokoji, a fermented liquid used in sake, and creative dishes like pickled green almonds, house-made tofu, and dashi.

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A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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