Onwuachi said he is set to produce the film adaptation of “Notes From a Young Black Chef,” in which actor Lakeith Stanfield (“Sorry to Bother You,” “Get Out”) will portray the chef, who overcame an abusive childhood, institutional racism and a failed first restaurant to earn national recognition with his second. Variety first reported that A24, the New York-based film production and distribution company, had acquired the rights to Onwuachi’s memoir. The chef declined to say how much the company paid for the rights.
“I think the opportunity is more important than the price point,” Onwuachi says during a phone interview on Tuesday. “Being able to showcase your story for more people to see it, and for people of color to see that they have representation, to me is more important than any price point.”
Onwuachi said he had a hand in singling out A24’s proposal among the 10 submitted to obtain the film rights. He had narrowed down his options to a TV series and A24’s film before selecting the latter. His decision was based on a couple of factors: Onwuachi always imagined “Notes From a Young Black Chef” as a movie, he said, and he really likes Stanfield’s acting.
“That’s my favorite actor, not even joking. I first saw him in ‘Get Out’ and then ‘Atlanta,’ which, like, that and ‘Insecure’ are two of my favorite shows,” he said. “Then I began to watch everything he did and loved the way that he carried the load while still inserting a little bit of himself that seemed so familiar to me, for some strange reason.”
According to Variety, A24’s project also has a producer (Stephen “Dr” Love, whose credits include the “Soul Survivor” TV series and the forthcoming “They Cloned Tyrone” for Netflix) and screenwriter Randy McKinnon (who wrote for the Netflix series “Chambers” and the forthcoming Apple series “War of the Worlds”). No director has been selected yet.
Does Onwuachi have a director in mind?
“I don’t know. I’m hoping to get to know some people,” the chef says. “I’m not extremely familiar with the film world. This is my chance to really get acquainted. Obviously, I’m with A24, so it would be cool if Barry Jenkins was able to do it.”
Jenkins directed “Moonlight,” distributed by A24, and it won Academy Awards for best picture and best adapted screenplay for its coming-of-age story about a child who grows up in an unforgiving Miami, struggling with his sexual identity and with emotional and physical abuse. The film topped film critic Ann Hornaday’s list of the best movies of 2016.
The chef’s memoir, co-written with journalist Joshua David Stein, is in its third printing, Onwuachi said. He’s received a lot of praise and said he’s also gotten countless notes from fans who have been moved by his coming-of-age story. Onwuachi moved from dealing drugs to studying at the Culinary Institute of America to running his own restaurant, Kith and Kin, a fine-dining destination on the Wharf, where he now draws on his personal history to incorporate elements of Nigerian, Jamaican and West African cooking into his menus. He won the James Beard Award in May for rising star chef of the year.
“The feedback from the press is one thing,” Onwuachi said about the positive reviews of his memoir. “But it’s when people are reaching out to you and telling you, thank you for validating them, thank you for your voice, thank you for inspiring them to continue cooking to get over this hurdle, thank you for giving them a lens into a world that they didn’t really think exists. It’s people from all walks of life that have reached out to me, sent me letters.”
Onwuachi plans to be involved with the film’s production once it begins in a year or so.
“I’m going to be extremely, extremely involved in this, for obvious reasons. But also, I’m really excited about it. It’s kind of like when I wrote the book. It’s like a new foray into something because I’ve just been immersed in cooking my entire life. I’ve never been good at anything else.”
Does he plan to make a cameo in his own film?
“Naturally,” Onwuachi says, laughing. “An awkward server, dropping off a plate, shakily looking into the camera. Absolutely. That’s got to happen. Definitely got to Stan Lee this thing.”
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