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Celebrity Chef Kwame Onwuachi Plots a Surprise Return to D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront

The Top Chef star will spearhead an exciting new project inside the Salamander Washington DC this fall

Chef Kwame Onwuachi opens a new restaurant this fall inside the Salamander Washington DC.
Storm Santos
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Acclaimed chef Kwame Onwuachi makes a triumphant comeback to D.C. this fall with the opening of a new restaurant at the foot of the fancy Salamander Washington DC.

The national culinary icon and author, who plans to make the blockbuster announcement today alongside Salamander Collection CEO Sheila Johnson, will reveal his restaurant’s name, cuisine, and theme at a later date. The 200-seat newcomer will reactivate the lobby-level space where Eric Ziebold’s long-closed CityZen once sat. Last September, Johnson bought the elegant, 373-room property that formerly flew the Mandarin Oriental flag and turned it into a Salamander (1330 Maryland Avenue SW).

The new restaurant will be situated on the left of Salamander’s roundabout entrance.

Bentel & Bentel, the architects behind the luxe looks of NYC’s Gramercy Tavern and three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin, will redesign the anchor dining establishment in the D.C. hotel.

Onwuachi hasn’t cooked in D.C. since the early days of the pandemic, and this marks his second act inside another posh hotel along the scenic Potomac River. In July 2020 he suddenly left his executive chef post at Kith/Kin, the polished Afro-Caribbean restaurant he opened in fall 2017 at the Wharf’s InterContinental Hotel. (That sleek, lobby-level waterfront space is now home to chef Kevin Tien’s modern Vietnamese showpiece Moon Rabbit.)

Under Onwuachi’s watch, Kith/Kin’s jerk chicken with tamarind barbecue sauce, whole fried snapper escovitch, and other hit dishes that traced the routes of the African diaspora helped him win the James Beard award for Rising Star Chef of the Year and earn the title of one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2019. That same year, he published a best-selling memoir that chronicled his rise in the fine-dining world as a young Black chef. Kith/Kin was the ultimate comeback story for a chef whose first D.C. restaurant, the ostentatious and ambitious Shaw Bijou, flopped in a matter of months.

The Bronx native went back to his New York roots last fall with the highly anticipated opening of Tatiana, his Afro-Caribbean restaurant at Lincoln Center that’s received rave reviews in its first few months of service. Much like Kith/Kin, Tatiana honors his family’s origins in Nigeria, Jamaica, Trinidad, and New Orleans, as well as his upbringing in the five boroughs.

“The time is right to return to D.C., and I can’t think of a more appropriate location to open a new restaurant that speaks to the character and lineage of D.C. than at this storied Salamander property,” says Onwuachi, in a statement.

Salamander Collection CEO Sheila Johnson.
Drew Xeron

During the pandemic, Onwuachi developed a close bond with Johnson in the joint creation of Family Reunion at her flagship Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia. The quaint equestrian town balloons with foodies every August for the multi-day culinary festival that celebrates diversity in the hospitality industry. The third annual edition, in partnership with Food & Wine (August 17-20), is already sold out.

“From the moment we launched Salamander Washington DC, I wanted to help bring Kwame back to our capital,” says Johnson, in a statement. “He is an inspiration and a generational talent, and we look forward to playing our part in his next success.”

The first Black billionaire businesswoman, recently named CEO of the Year by the Washington Business Journal, is also chairman of the Monumental Sports & Entertainment titan behind NBA’s Washington Wizards, NHL’s Washington Capitals, and WNBA’s Washington Mystics. The co-founder of BET is also publishing her own memoir in September.

Her privately-owned and operated hospitality group Salamander Collection also includes high-end resorts and hotels in Jamaica, Anguilla, Aspen, Colorado, Charleston, South Carolina, and St. Petersburg, Florida.

Family Reunion 2022
Sheila Johnson and chef Kwame Onwuachi (front row center) pose with the 2022 class of Family Reunion chefs at The Family Reunion at the Salamander Resort on August 20, 2022 in Middleburg, Virginia.
Photo by Shannon Finney/Getty Images