In 2016, when the nation’s pre-eminent culinary organization, the James Beard Foundation, announced its chef and restaurant awards semifinalists, only two black chefs saw their names on a coveted list of more than 425 nominees: Edouardo Jordan of Salare in Seattle and pastry chef Dolester Miles of Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham.
Atlanta restaurants and chefs netted a total of 14 James Beard award nominations in 2016, yet no local black chefs made the cut. It’s not because there weren’t many black chefs in Atlanta.
Black restaurateur and former chef Marco Shaw said he’s seen “more black cooks in Atlanta than anywhere I’ve lived.” Shaw is president and COO of Kevin Gillespie’s Red Beard Restaurants (including Gunshow and Revival), and among the cities where he has lived are New York, New Orleans, Santa Fe, N.M., and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
But even as cities such as Atlanta — long known for being a haven of opportunity for African Americans — are experiencing rocketing growth in the food and dining industry, significant success and recognition continues to elude black chefs. When Shaw was the owner of Full Plate and Fife in Portland, Ore., he recalls how people unfamiliar with his kitchens would assume that his non-black sous chef was in charge. “That happened to me all the time,” said Shaw. “People would come in and inevitably ask [the sous chef], ‘So, are you Marco?’ Those were restaurants I owned.”
Kevin Gillespie, a Top Chef alumnus who is white, was one such sous chef that Shaw employed at Fife. “It was frustrating for everyone involved,” he said.