A Shipping Mistake Helped Craft Kwame Onwuachi's Crispy Okra Dish

From the outside, it seems creating recipes is an act borne exclusively from a deep knowledge of how to pair flavors and create exciting texture contrasts. But many are the product of happy accidents, and such is the case with chef Kwame Onwuachi's crispy okra. At his New York City restaurant, Tatiana, the former TopChef contestant told Today that he mistakenly received an order of honey-mustard powder, at the same time he was trying to figure out a new approach to okra. And with skill and kismet on his side, he combined the two ingredients — into an innovative take on a divisive vegetable.

Onwuachi fries the okra, but not like you might imagine. This isn't the Southern staple that comes battered in cornmeal, but rather a crispy okra plunged straight into hot oil, emerging with no slime in sight, thanks to the quick cooking. While the okra gets crisp, Onwuachi combines hot honey — that's honey kicked up with spicy elements — with another spicy condiment, Dijon mustard, along with pungent Creole seasoning, creamy mayonnaise, and the acidic bite of lemon juice. Once the okra is done frying, he drains it before tossing it in his spiced honey-mustard dressing, more of which is served on the side along with lemon wedges.

Spotlighting cuisines of Africa

It's unsurprising that Onwuachi serves up a fascinating and original take on okra. The vegetable is an important part of both African and African-American culture and cuisine. Tatiania, located in New York City's Lincoln Center, celebrates the foods that have been and have become staples of the African diaspora in the U.S. Okra is native to Africa and has become central to many dishes created by enslaved Africans and their descendants, notably gumbo, the name of which is derived from ngombo, a Central Bantu word for okra.

At his first restaurant, The Shaw Bijou in Washington D.C., Onwuachi broke new ground in the American fine-dining scene by mining the Nigerian culinary canon, among other global cuisines. He offered his take on traditional dishes, such as peanut and onion rubbed Wagyu suya and the melon seed soup, egusi, featuring monkfish. Onwuachi also brought African flavors to the 2023 U.S. Open when he was tapped to cater food for the club-level attendees. Among his dishes was a show-stopping pepper steak featuring a ribeye rubbed with sazón, a spice blend most commonly found in Afro-Caribbean cuisine that includes garlic, onion, paprika, and cumin. Onwuachi also applied a marinade of fresh onions, garlic, cilantro, and sofrito before grilling the ribeye. While that isn't currently on Tatiana's menu, here's to hoping it might one day find a home next to the once-impromptu dish, now menu fixture, crispy okra.