"Imagine me, a Jamaican from humble beginnings, with a seat at the table"... The words of James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southeast winner Andrew Black to Thursday Food. Prior to his big win Black had tasted disappointment not once, but twice. "I was a [James Beard] semi-finalist twice but never gave up!"
His wait was not in vain! Black, on Monday, June 5 2023, copped the 'Best Chef: Southwest' award in Chicago. The James Beard Awards are a set of annual ceremonies within the US that recognise those in the food, beverage and hospitality industry who exemplify the James Beard Foundation's core value of "Championing a standard of good food anchored in talent, equity, and sustainability.
"This win is not just for me" adds the chef. "It's a win for St Mary, the parish of my birth, for Barracks River, Richmond [where I was raised]; for my grandmother Elizabeth Bandoo who introduced me to the kitchen; and to my home economics teacher Maureen Cunningham who encouraged me to pursue my passion for food even when I was being teased for being the sole male student."
Black's first job on his way to culinary stardom was as a kitchen porter at SuperClubs Boscobel. "I started at the bottom, but was able to look up and see Chef Dennis McIntosh [recently deceased] at the helm... Here was a man who looked like me, encouraging me to aim for the stars! This I did". Black also lists Pat James, Mr Williams and Mark Cole as those who helped him on his journey.
"I signed up for the benefits programme, conceptualised by the Jamaican Government for hotels to choose employees to study abroad... I got through to Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, and graduated with a degree in hotel management and culinary arts."
Black returned to Jamaica and Boscobel Resort where he worked as the executive sous chef for two years. He had his sights set on growth and better opportunities and subsequently migrated to the US.
He was hired as executive sous chef at the storied Peabody Hotel, where he worked under five-star Executive Chef Andreas Kisler, himself a member of the James Beard Foundation. Thereafter, Black continued his culinary studies while garnering experience at the Ritz in Paris, France.
Life took a dramatic turn for Black in 2007... As Oklahoma City prepared to re-open its historic Skirvin Hotel, the owners, Marcus Hotels and Resorts, called on the by now well-experienced sous chef to assume the role of executive chef. A successful launch of Park Avenue Grill helped establish him as a prominent figure in the culinary world and a leader in the business scene in Oklahoma City.
He introduced the acclaimed fine dining establishment Grey Sweater, the innovative Black Walnut, and the stylish patisserie known as Gilded Acorn. Notably, he proudly collaborated with Dorasti Premium Caviar to introduce his signature Grey Sweater Caviar.
Black's culinary prowess has also garnered attention from esteemed publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Wine Enthusiast magazine (appearing in the 50 Best Restaurants 2022 list), Zagat Stories, and Thrillist. He is also the author of the cookbook Foraging in Oklahoma: Tales and Recipes from the Open Road, a collaborative effort with The Oklahoman's Steve Lackmeyer.
As a proud restaurateur and entrepreneur Black has made significant contributions to the culinary landscape. Having embraced Oklahoma City as his permanent home for the past 15 years, he has never forgotten his roots and remains a proud son of the soil.
"I want to be an example here [Oklahoma] and to up-and-coming culinarians in Jamaica. I want them to know that they too, can make it!"