“Michelin is the only guide that counts.” That’s what Paul Bocuse, a world renowned French chef, said in the 1960s and it’s still true today. Restaurants would give anything to be Michelin rated. A Michelin star means instant credibility in the culinary world, droves of press and patrons. An honor so great isn’t easily given, nor can it be solicited. Michelin inspectors visit restaurants anonymously and in fact, no one knows who they are — not one has ever been allowed to speak to a journalist. Many restaurants over the years have received one, two or three star ratings but not one of them have featured a Black woman as Executive Chef, until now.
Mariya Russell is the head chef at dual establishments, Kikko and Kumiko. Kikko is an intimate 10-seat bar in the basement of Kumiko, an 8-seat cocktail bar. Some chefs labor for decades without getting a Michein nod, Russell accomplished the feat despite being at Kumiko for less than a full year. Guests can experience everything from a “Japanese milk bread toast topped with fermented honey ice cream and truffle to a seven-course omakase experience.” Russell has been spotlighted by Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Time. Not bad for a Black girl from Springfield, OH.
Mariya’s passion for food started as a young girl hanging around the kitchen. Her first culinary achievement was learning to make herself eggs, which she then wanted to make for everybody. After high school Mariya moved to Chicago, from Columbus, to attend The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. After graduating she worked for several restaurants in the city before relocating to Charleston for three years. After her father passed, Russell moved back to Chicago and took a job as a server. She took the time to learn more and allowed her work ethic to shine through, which ultimately convinced one of the owners of Kumiko to recruit Mariya to be part of this new venture.
History is made every single day but some days, the history is that much more flavorful — today is such a day. Black people have, arguably, given America its flavor. From the nation’s soundtrack to the literal seasoning we enjoy as consumers of food, there is no seasoning without Black people and certainly that tradition continues.