Stories / Awards

Kwame Onwuachi's 5 Lessons for a Better Year

Asha Dirshe

January 19, 2023


Kwame Onwuachi on stage at the James Beard Awards, wearing a multicolored gold jacket and tuxedo pants photo by Clay Williams
JBF Award winner Kwame Onwuachi onstage at the 2022 James Beard Awards (photo: Clay Williams).

If you’re hoping to find advice on how to become your best self in 2023, feel free to stop reading now. If 2022 was any indication—from unprecedented spikes in food costs, to ongoing restaurant closures, to the chokehold that Lensa AI had for a few weeks—this year is likely to be just as rocky a ride. In fact, the only thing certain about 2023 is that it’s vastly unknown.

Thankfully, choosing to embrace ambiguity and seeking out new experiences can offer you the opportunity to evolve and improve every day. James Beard Award–winning chef Kwame Onwuachi is no stranger to this ethos. After writing a cookbook, adapting his memoir into a forthcoming feature film, hosting the Beard Awards (for the second time), and most recently opening Tatiana in Lincoln Center, he’s taking inventory of the lessons learned in 2022. The following 5 lessons are his blueprint for tapping into your own perception, awareness, and choice to discover your most fulfilling year yet.

1. Reflect on what happened.

You may still be unpacking the whirlwind that was 2022. It can be difficult to remember what has or hasn’t gone well when you’re hyper-focused on what's next. Maybe you took a class, started a job, or reached out for help in ways you hadn't before. Whatever the accomplishment, big or small, it’s worth appreciating. “When you value yourself that way, others [treat] you with value and respect,” says Onwuachi. Gratitude is critical for remaining grounded in who you are. But practicing gratitude and humility aren't the same: “Wherever you're at, [be] grateful, but also understand that you're supposed to be here…[and should] be treated with respect,'' he asserts.

It’s important to affirm yourself, especially in times of disappointment. After falling short (by an infuriatingly small margin) of making the New York Times Best Sellers list for his cookbook, Onwuachi managed to find a silver lining: “I was able to go on the road. I was able to create my first cookbook that I'd always dreamed of. So, it wasn't an L.” By reflecting and treating your experiences as learning opportunities, regardless of the outcome, you can stay rooted in who you are.

2. Investigate what you need to thrive.

Are you a person who needs stronger relationships and community support? Perhaps you need to infuse the everyday with inspiration by redesigning your personal space, listening to music, or cooking nourishing meals for yourself. Knowing more about your unique needs can help you name the people, activities, and environments that renew your energy instead of draining it. “I get bored easily and I also get inspired easily, [so] reinventing myself and doing different things keeps me motivated to keep going,” shares Onwuachi. For those less seasoned in the art of reinvention, remember that trying new things will be challenging. “Having a tribe of people that really support you is definitely key to keep pushing, because [it] can get lonely out there,” he says. As you build community, hone your self-awareness, and practice seeking out new experiences, it will get easier to make choices more in alignment with where you are now, and where you want to be.

3.  Put some skin in the game.

Think of all the places you show up in the world—at work, at home, and in your relationships. Now make a short list of all the places where you find the deepest emotional and energetic connections. Those spaces likely provide an opportunity for you to operate as the most engaged, passionate version of yourself. “If I'm gonna do anything I'm gonna make sure there's a story involved [and] my soul is in it. I'm gonna make sure I have skin in the game,” declares the multi-hyphenate entrepreneur. Through experience he's learned that leading with passion helps him discern when to leave spaces, projects, and relationships that no longer serve him. “When I'm not having a good time anymore, it does not serve me. I'm also not doing it justice by being there, by bringing that energy to it,” Onwuachi explains. We each possess an area in our lives to put some “skin in the game”—where we can choose to lean courageously into the unknown as our fullest selves in service of something greater.

4. Prioritize personal and community health.

We're experiencing some of the most compounded, collective grief in recent memory. Social and environmental crises are synonymous with everyday life. And as you move into the fourth year of a global pandemic, caring for your mental, spiritual, and emotional health is paramount. Onwuachi says he’s planning to carve out more time for self-care this year—“to take care of my health a little bit better, have a better relationship with myself, mind, body, and soul. I've been cooking for myself lately, and I've never cooked for myself [before],” he shared.

5. Take risks and change direction as often as possible.

Trying new things can often help you become more versatile, adaptive, and ready for changes when they inevitably arise this upcoming year. When you build a stronger relationship with trust and intuition in facing the unfamiliar, it allows you to gain clarity on the skills and resources you already possess. Changing directions is a defining characteristic of Onwuachi’s approach to craft and art. “Doing different things helps me keep my voice [and] keep myself interested and excited about life, that's the mantra that I go by,” he says. His dedication to reinvention helps him live life with clearer vision. If you’ve historically held back from trying new things, Onwuachi asserts that today is the perfect opportunity to do it differently. “We only have one [life] to live, so we should live it to the fullest every single day,” he affirms.

2023 promises to be a groundbreaking year for Onwuachi because he’s equipped with the wisdom of last year’s lessons—celebrating himself in the face of disappointment, examining his needs, and taking big risks. If you want to discover your most fulfilling year yet, try surrounding yourself with a supportive community, setting boundaries that prioritize your health, and stepping into the unknown. And if all else fails, a good mantra or song will help you stay inspired and get excited about living life to the fullest; Onwuachi is listening to “In a Minute” by Lil Baby to start the new year, and maybe you should, as well.


Asha Dirshe is a farmer and multimedia artist whose work has appeared in Refinery29 and Eater Boston. She tells stories about creativity, environment and agency that celebrate the often overlooked stories of innovation and expertise within the global Black/Indigenous diaspora. To learn more and get in touch follow her on Instagram or TikTok.