Kith & Kin DC
Updated: May 2
Great food. Outstanding service. Promise. That's what Kith & Kin, a lux afro-caribbean restaurant located inside the swanky Intercontinental hotel in Washington DC, offers. At least for folks like me.
Outstanding food and service landed Kith & Kin on Esquire's Best New Restaurants in America list and a spot on the World's 50 Best Restaurants ranking. Those attributes speak for themselves. But we gotta talk a bit about promise. What do I mean when I say "Kith & Kin (and spots like it) offer promise to foodies and folks like me?" That takes a little bit of explaining, but is arguably the most important aspect of this outstanding restaurant's distinguished offerings.
I'm an upper middle class black woman working in a predominately white field, living in a highly segregated city. My neighborhood is trendy, newly developed and overpriced. Most of the people who look like me around my neighborhood are begging outside of the McDonald's or working in service jobs. I can take a bus across town and tell you when the visibly poor, and overwhelmingly black and brown folk, will begin to appear. The localization of poverty and neglect is mapped, visible, and predictable as income disparity remains ever present between DC's hip and not so hip neighborhoods.
As a new transplant to DC, back for a while trying to make it feel like home again, this segregation and inequality weighs on me. At work, in the food blogging scene, even at the very fancy social club/coworking space that I frequent, I often feel a bit like the odd one out. Now don't get me wrong, that's not to say that I don't make friends, enjoy meaningful social interaction, or fully enjoy the spaces I choose to inhabit with the hefty dose of privilege that I carry around as a highly educated, well-paid professional. I love my life, and I love the friends and colleagues who I've chosen to incorporate into my life.
But the sheer demographics of where I live and the spaces I inhabit mean that I navigate long periods of code switching. I often must fine tune my communication to account for a lack of shared experiences with those around me. I take many, many deep breaths as I deal with endless micro and not so microaggressions as often one of the only, or the only, black person in the room. It's exhausting. Sometimes I want to retreat, to be able to ask for advice on where to get hair products from someone who actually gets what I'm looking for... to make a cultural reference to one of the many black holiday movies that permeate a certain section of pop culture and have my colleagues understand. Let's be honest: black twitter is called black twitter for a reason. Segregation, among a million other things, has created a sense of separate pop cultures in America, separate experiences and shopping venues, inside jokes and references. These references may crossover and blend into the larger, dominant pop culture to some extent. However, they have definitely not made the leap into the understanding of the majority of my lovely, intelligent, well read, non-POC (people of color) friends. Frankly, that makes for some lonely times.
So what the hell do I do about it? I took the advice of Harvard Business Review, which published an outstanding set of affirmations for black folk. The most important of these reads: "I proactively cultivate vibrant networks - both existing and new - in which my peers and mentors support my growth. I know I can't necessarily rely on existing networks to provide me with everything I need to grow and develop; too often, marginalized people are excluded from these places. While I do participate in existing networks if possible, I also construct my own spaces where I can draw support while I learn and grow."
That last part is essential, about creating my own spaces to learn and grow. Lately, that's meant trying to cultivate a network of black food bloggers and writers in the DC area, working to create a space where we can be ourselves without hesitation. I've been reaching out to strange black and brown bloggers via Instagram and email (sometimes to no reply cause they obviously think I'm a creeper), organizing meetups with diverse foodies, and being that annoying person who posts conversation starters and links to blogging guides in our group chat the hopes of encouraging others to share expertise and make friends. It's a work in progress, but already I've met some great people, made new friends, and learned a ton. Slowly but surely, it feels good to carve out my own space.
And that's where the promise of places like Kith & Kin comes in. What better place to meetup with some local black foodie friends, part of this effort to create safe networks for black folk in my little foodie sphere, than an award winning restaurant helmed by a black chef named as one of Time Magazine's 100 Next? The 100 Next list spotlights rising stars shaping their industries, and Chef Kwame of Kith & Kin was honored for his leadership in the restaurant industry, pushing for inclusivity and a thorough examination of the industry's flaws. The entire team at Kith & Kin is diverse and young, hip and friendly in a way that whispers of promise.
The clientele reflects this promise. It's why I chose to visit Kith & Kin with two of my black food blogger friends for our meetup. As I looked around the dining room of the expensive restaurant in a new development, the diversity of the diners was striking, and the ease I felt was even more so. And that promise? It's that a 29 year old black girl with big hair can sit down at a restaurant offering $65 plates and not be ignored, watched like a hawk lest she run out on the bill, or her laughter policed for being too loud. It promises that what some might consider to be lowbrow, inexpensive, ethnic food, can occupy multiple worlds. It can simultaneously be the food of my father and of the heritage of so many black folk AND worth top dollar and fancy awards. It promises that black and brown women can lead as Kith & Kin's female, afro-latina executive pastry chef wins shoutouts and accolades for her outstanding desserts, each one an anchor point to diners often quick to brush past the sweets menu.
So shout out to Kith & Kin for creating a space where a group of loud black women could feel right at home. All at once bougie, comfortable, pampered. Thanks for making gumbo simple, yet so complex it reminded me of my father's cooking from my childhood. Thanks for making oxtail impossibly tender and sophisticated... for making food so good my girl almost fell off her chair with joy when she took a bite. Shoutout to the staff for being right on time with their thorough knowledge of the menu, perfect recommendations, and patience as we took endless photos and cracked jokes. What an amazing night.
That's what restaurants are supposed to offer, an experience rooted in food that somehow brings us joy. Otherwise, what else are we paying for?
P.S. don't forget to save room for dessert y'all.