Chef Mashama Bailey

Chef Mashama Bailey is the first African-American woman to be nominated for a James Beard best chef award.

Congratulations are in order for one of our customers: The Grey Restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.

More specifically, kudos goes to The Grey’s executive chef, Mashama Bailey, who is quickly blazing a path of excellence.

In just this past year, Bailey has been featured on CBS This Morning’s “Dish” segment; Time Magazine named her restaurant one of world’s greatest places to eat and drink, and she was named a finalist for best chef in the southeast by one of the culinary world’s preeminent institutions, the James Beard Awards.

What makes the James Beard nomination more poignant is it marks the first time an African-American woman was nominated for the best chef award.

Moreover, the honor is all the more impressive considering this was the first year Bailey was eligible for nomination. The rules of the James Beard Awards stipulate a chef helms a specific restaurant for a minimum of three years.

The Grey, located in a former segregated Greyhound bus station, opened for business just before the start of 2015.

Another reason why Bailey’s quick rise to fame is stunning is that she’s a Bronx-born, Queens, New York native.

However, Bailey’s creative signature interpretations on traditional Southern cooking were honed by spending summers with extended family in Georgia.

After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education and honing her skills at some of New York city’s top-rated restaurants, Chef Bailey had a unique opportunity, along with her business partner, Johno Morisano, to renovate the Greyhound bus station in Savannah.

Bailey was heavily influenced by, the late, great Edna Lewis, granddaughter of an emancipated slave who went on to open Cafe Nicholson in New York City, where she cooked for numerous celebrities.

Lewis, who passed away in 2006 at age 89, was the author of three cookbooks, was the recipient of an honorary Ph.D. in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University, as well as a “James Beard Living Legend Award”, and was named “Grande Dame” by Les Dames d’Escoffier, a philanthropic organization of women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality.

Bailey says that Lewis instilled upon the younger chef the simple yet profoundly important lessons of being yourself and being proud of her southern and African-American heritage. In addition, Lewis advised Bailey to cook the type of food she was raised with. Sagacious advice that’s paid off.

To honor Lewis’ legacy, Bailey serves as Vice Chairman on the board of the Edna Lewis Foundation.

There’s one momento Bailey keeps at The Grey restaurant that has moving, historical significance. It’s her grandmother’s Greyhound first aid medical kit. In the very same building where Chef Bailey dishes up elevated southern home cooking, her own grandmother had to use separate, inferior toilets, water fountains, and experience the cruel yoke of racism and segregation.

Bailey herself has reached the pantheon of American cuisine in a field in which males receive far more recognition than females, and in which African American chefs have been largely ignored.

Congrats, Chef Bailey. Many continued years of success to you!

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