How 12 Black Chefs Cooked Their Way to the Top of the Culinary Game

Diverse, ambitious and as creative outside the kitchen as they are within it, these food geniuses are changing the color of cuisine around the country.

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Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson with guests at his Red Rooster restaurant in New York City for Canon’s the Big Moment Dec. 10, 2013

Brian Ach/Getty Images

Mix one part talent, two parts dedication and a sprinkle of genius self-marketing. Black chefs and restaurateurs may not have been part of the original American recipe for culinary success, but there’s no question that they’re in the mix now.

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Cover of one of B. Smith’s cookbooks

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Former model Barbara Smith has become an iconic restaurateur, entertaining and lifestyle expert, and author of cookbooks like B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style. Though not a trained professional chef, she has been in the restaurant business for 25 years, serving up her take on contemporary Southern cuisine.

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Best Buddy global ambassador and actress Lauren Potter prepares a meal with celebrity chef G. Garvin at the after party for the Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port on May 31, 2014, in Hyannis Port, Mass.

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A former line cook at the Ritz Carlton-Downtown in Atlanta, Gerry Garvin went on to study in California under chef Jean Pierre Dubray. Later he opened his signature restaurant G. Garvin’s in Los Angeles, where he catered to high-profile clients like Bill Clinton and Halle Berry. He now hosts the show Road Trip With G. Garvin on the Food Network’s Cooking Channel and has authored several cookbooks.

This restaurateur pair got their start in the food business by operating family-run barbecue restaurants in Memphis and Nashville in Tennessee. They rose to fame after being highlighted by the Food Network in 2006 and now operate Neely’s Barbecue Parlor in New York City. They also have their own television series, Down Home With the Neelys.

4. Ron Duprat 

Born in Mare Rouge, Haiti, Duprat is known to fuse Haitian, French and Asian cuisines to create flavorful dishes. He is the executive chef of Latitudes Beach Cafe in Hollywood, Fla., and competed on season 6 of Bravo’s Top Chef.

A master of French, Caribbean and New American cooking, Wilson began his career at the age of 23. Tapping into his Jamaican lineage, he gained recognition when he opened Bambou, a first-of-its-kind upscale Caribbean restaurant in New York City. He is the executive chef at Sushi Samba in Las Vegas, appeared on a season of Bravo’s Top Chef and is rumored to be dating Star Jones. 

Born and raised in the Ivory Coast in West Africa, Chef Morou, as he prefers to be called, is the chef and owner of Kora Restaurant in Arlington, Va. He is known to combine African and Middle Eastern cuisines and has appeared on Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef. 

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Tre Wilcox (center)

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Reigning from Texas, Wilcox started out by cleaning chicken at a fast-food restaurant during his teenage years. He worked his way up to compete in the third season of Bravo’s Top Chef, returning in 2010 for an all-star edition. Since leaving his executive-chef position at Marquee Grill, Wilcox has found success and satisfaction in teaching from his personal kitchen. 

Terry is a nationally recognized author, food-justice activist and eco-chef specializing in Afro-vegan cuisine. The Memphis native is the author of four books, including The Inspired Vegan: Seasonal Ingredients, Creative Recipes, Mouthwatering Menus. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Food & Wine, Gourmet, O: The Oprah Magazine and Essence, among other outlets.

Mentored by African-American chef Robert W. Lee, Randall worked his way up the ranks—from working in Air Force flight line kitchens to being the executive chef of several restaurants—before opening Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School in Savannah, Ga. 

This Ethiopian-born, Swedish-bred chef became the executive chef of Aquavit in New York at the age of 24. Soon after, he became the youngest person ever to receive a three-star restaurant review from the New York Times. He has since opened several restaurants around the world, including Red Rooster Harlem, which showcases American comfort food with a hint of his Swedish and African roots.

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Tiffany Derry

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A native of Texas, Derry began her culinary career at a local International House of Pancakes, quickly moving up the ranks to become the youngest person to hold a management position at the age of 17. She appeared on season 7 of Bravo’s Top Chef, where she was voted “fan favorite,” and later competed in the all-star competition. She is currently appearing on the new Spike TV series Hungry Investors.

The niece of the late Sylvia Woods of Sylvia’s of Harlem, known for its famous chicken and waffles, Wilson opened Melba’s Restaurant in 2005 in Harlem as a premier destination for comfort food. She appeared on season 4 of Throwdown! With Bobby Flay, beating him with her recipe for Southern fried chicken and eggnog waffles.

Nicole L. Cvetnic is The Root’s multimedia editor and producer.

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