These talented chefs are helping to shift the South’s culinary trajectory.
The South has something to say, especially when it comes to Black cuisine, and the world is all ears. While the American South is traditionally known for its role in the popularity of soul food as well as comfort food in general, many Black chefs of today are flexing their chops and proving that their culinary skills span far beyond grandma’s famous fried chicken and macaroni and cheese recipe.
We’re also seeing an emergence, a renaissance even, of Black women chefs finally getting their respect in the culinary industry, too. So it’s only right that we highlight some of these amazingly talented women not only helping to shift the South’s culinary trajectory, but those also stepping into lead roles and completely dominating them in the process.
Based in Asheville, North Carolina, Chef Ashleigh Shanti not only gets down when it comes to food, but she’s also a sommelier— meaning she knows her wines as well. The former Chef de Cuisine of the town’s Benny on Eagle, Shanti now works as a freelance chef, hosting dinners all over the country. At only 31-years-old, she’s already been recognized as a 2020 James Beard Foundation finalist, and she had a run on season 19 of Bravo’s Top Chef. Her specialty is Black Appalachian cuisine, and she has plans to open her own causal fish house, Good Hot Fish, in Asheville soon.
Originally from Reidsville, North Carolina, but now based in Atlanta, Chef Whitney Thomas loves what she does with her whole heart, and it shows in her dishes. After spending her younger years at her grandmother’s hip while in the kitchen, Thomas has not only solidified her place as an Executive Chef in the industry— a title not held by many Black American female chefs— but she will soon introduce her latest concept, Serenidad, a Latin Soul restaurant to Atlanta. You can also catch her on the ticket for some of the country’s hottest multicourse dinner events.
Ghanaian born Chef Awo Amenumey, affectionately known as Chef Awo, is bringing the authentic flavors of Ghana to the South— and educating us on sourcing our ingredients from the land in the process. Now based in Charlotte, NC, Chef Awo is known for her informative multicourse dinners that feature Ghanaian dishes like: fried yam, Shiso, and of course plenty of Ghanaian Jollof— not to be confused with Nigerian or Senegalese Jollof. You can book her for private dining experiences, or you can attend one of her many dinners, typically hosted in collaboration with North Carolina’s Nebedaye Farms.
Hailing from Queens by way of the Bronx, Chef Mashama Bailey is no stranger to the culinary industry. Currently, a chef and partner at Savannah, Georgia’s The Grey and The Grey Market— Bailey also recently landed a new partnership with Delta Air Lines. You will now be able to experience her dishes during select first class flights on the airline. As far as accolades go, well, she has many. Bailey was recognized as the James Beard Foundation’s best chef in the southeast in 2019 and in 2020, she was awarded the foundation’s outstanding chef title.
Charlotte’s Chef Lisa Brooks understands the importance and impact of preparing meals with love. Crediting her culinary talents to the matriarchs of her family, Brooks launched Heart and Soul Personal Chef Services in 2010. Today, Brooks not only hosts some of the region’s most exclusive plated dinners in her home, but she recently launched her brand’s newest pop-up dining experience— Mattie's Front Porch— which is an intimate monthly multi-course dinner series featuring a talented team of female chefs, showcasing Low-Country and Southern Coastal cuisine.
Growing up in the segregated town of Excel, Alabama, U.S. Navy Veteran Chef Star Maye found solace in the kitchen with her grandmother, to whom she owes her love of soul food. Her culinary journey has taken her into leading roles in some of the nation’s most elite establishments, and now, she’s not only the Executive Chef at Nashville’s Anzie Blue, but also a co-owner. In June, Maye released her first book on Amazon Books, titled A Star Among Us: A Chef's Story.The self-published book reflects on Maye’s personal journey through the culinary industry as a black, LGBTQ+ woman and the stories behind some of her favorite dishes.
Recently making an appearance on the Food Network’s Supermarket Stakeout, Charlotte-based Chef Adjoa Courtney is unapologetically doing things her way as a queer, Black woman chef. Going only by Chef Joya, she currently serves as singer Fantasia Barrino’s personal chef, while also introducing new and transitioning plant-based eaters to her world through her viral cooking videos and finger-licking recipes. She’s even released a series of cookbooks so that people can further expand their plant-based palette at home.