Mariya Russell: the First Black Female Chef to Earn a MICHELIN Star

Alessandra Meldolesi
copertina mariya russell

Courage is not lacking for Mariya Russell, who after winning the first MICHELIN Star ever awarded to a black woman, moved with her chef husband to Hawaii to open pop-up restaurants. Meanwhile, she reflects on the racial stigma in the hospitality industry.

The interview

In an increasingly politically correct gastronomy, Mariya Russell is twice a minority: because she is a woman and because she is black. So, she caused a stir in 2020 when she won a star at Chicago´s Kikko restaurant, the first black chef ever, with a sophisticated and personal offering of Japanese cuisine. A success that is far from obvious, in a country where her peers struggle to get attention from industry insiders. So much so that drawing a comparison with the election of Katanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, Mariya said, "I think if race were not such a complex social construct, both of these moments could have taken place a long time ago. On the other hand, there´s still a stigma against black people who want to make their way in this industry."

"Slaves worked hard cooking for plantation masters, so I can understand that there are those who don´t want to do it. It's hard, intense work. And it's not for everyone. But it's something I love and am good at, as well as something I appreciate because of the culture and the love of community it creates." However, 2020 was not just any year; Maryia's fame was beginning to take off as the virus broke into our lives. After a few weeks of confinement, she packed her bags with her husband Garrett and set off on a cross-country journey with Honolulu as the destination in search of a better quality of life. Which means Kikko is still closed.

In this new, relaxed atmosphere, between a yoga class and a dip in the sea, the two have been focusing on their new culinary projects, including private events and videos for social media, especially YouTube, where they have uploaded a content aimed at "creating a space of love, community, and food education." These are lessons about 20 minutes long, focusing on cuts of meat as well as different types of knives. "I'm excited to be able to share my knowledge with people. I think this will help people feed themselves or prepare meals for their families properly. If you don't have someone to teach you or a place to learn, I want to be there for you."

But that's not enough. The couple has also planned a series of pop-up restaurants for the summer, where they will compare two different styles of cooking, hers, which is more fine dining, and his, which is more rustic. "It's important to have this kind of dynamic with your partner, to be able to go back and forth with ideas while staying on the same page. It's a great life for us."

Source: Esquire

Find the reference article here

Photo: Kikko Credits

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