Kwame Onwuachi on favorite foods, men wearing nail polish

Top Chef contestant and judge Kwame Onwuachi recently partnered with Orly to create a line of kitchen-inspired nail polishes designed for men. “It’s a form of self-expression, just like deciding what you’re going to wear for the day,” he says. (Photo: Robert Smith for Orly; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Because food connects us all, Yahoo Life is serving up a heaping plateful of table-talk with people who are passionate about what’s on their menu in Deglazeda series about food.

From appearing as a contestant and judging on top boss to being named a “rising star chef” by the James Beard Foundation, Kwame Onwuachi’s rise to culinary stardom has been nothing short of meteoric.

The 32-year-old’s current career focus? Bringing attention to underrepresented demographics in the world of celebrity chefs and restaurateurs. In his 2019 memoir, Notes from a Young Black Chef, Onwuachi shares his own stories of pursuing his passions in spite of the odds. He’s currently working on a follow-up cookbook and serving as a writer on a movie project based on his memoir. And, in 2021, Onwuachi signed on as executive producer at Food & Wine: In a 2021 interview with the publication, he said he hopes to “create dope experiences” and “shake things up” in the role.

But even with his hectic schedule in front of the cameras other behind the stove, Onwuachi maintains his down-to-earth Louisiana-boy attitude when it comes to everyday cooking, leaning on family traditions and his cultural heritage to guide him through daily life.

His favorite dinner in front of the TV on the rare nights he’s home alone? Microwave popcorn. “It’s cheap, it’s quick, [there are] no dishes and it’s good for the environment,” Onwuachi tells Yahoo Life. “Very little waste.”

This regular-dude attitude has served him well in his professional career, and he refuses to lend much credence to the title of “celebrity chef,” famously commenting to reporters that the term lumps together celebrities who know about food and chefs who are visible on tv “I don’t pay any attention to what people think about me or how I approach my professional life,” he says.

What he does pay attention to: family and flavor. Onwuachi’s family tradition of making gumbo on Christmas at his home in New Orleans, La. is one that has stuck with him for many years. It’s a dish everyone participates in, and it embodies his philosophy about cooking — putting tradition and heritage on the table brings people closer together.

“Whether you are peeling shrimp, caramelizing the roux on the stove, making stock or cutting up vegetables, everyone has a hand in making the gumbo,” he says. “That’s like our family.”

Onwuachi’s highly-lauded restaurant, Kith and Kin, which closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, showcased his commitment to comforting family-style recipes fused with Afro-Caribbean ingredients: The menu was made up of cooking styles and food traditions from his family’s Nigerian heritage.

Caribbean food — specifically Jamaican — remains among Onwuachi’s favorite eats. “Goat curry, oxtail: I eat them two or three times a week,” he says. “But American food like cheeseburgers, fried chicken and French fries are a close second.”

On set and on the road, Onwuachi sticks to the snack food favorites he loved growing up. His favorite on-location snacks are, “Otter Pops or Fla-Vor-Ice pops and the Spicy Sweet Chili-flavored Doritos in the purple bag. Those are fire.”

Some might see these picks as pedestrians, but to Onwuachi, they’re just who he is. And like most of us, he also has foods that he just can’t stomach. “Most innards are OK,” he says, “but I can’t get behind beef liver or any large animal liver. Or insects.”

Among the colors in Onwuachi's nail polish collaboration: a black shade named Chef's Kiss.  (Photo: Robert Smith for Orly)

Among the colors in Onwuachi’s nail polish collaboration: a black shade named Chef’s Kiss. (Photo: Robert Smith for Orly)

Onwuachi is also diving into the world of grooming and personal care through a new collaboration with nail polish brand Orly, releasing three limited-edition colors inspired by his kitchen career: a deep purple called Eggplant, a black shade called Chef’s Kiss and a stainless steel -inspired color called sauté. Through the partnership, he hopes to encourage men to express themselves through nail polish.

His trips to the nail salon with his nieces for mani-pedis were the impetus for the collaboration. “It’s a form of self-expression, just like deciding what you’re going to wear for the day,” he says. “More men are adopting nail polish as another way to be comfortable with their sexuality and feel empowered to make new decisions about how the world sees them.”

Onwuachi says he’s had several men ask him how to wear the nail polish. “It’s not something that should be taboo or crazy,” he says. “Ask how men should wear nail polish is the same thing as what people thought when pants were first acceptable for women. We all put on our pants one leg at a time: It’s the same for nail polish.”

Proceeds from the sale of the limited-edition polish collection benefit Bigs and Littles NYC, a nationwide mentoring movement transforming the lives of children through one-on-one mentoring.

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