San Diego chef partners with colleague to showcase rising talent among Black chefs

Growing up in Barbados and watching his father go from cooking at his job at a resort to coming home and cooking for friends and family created a culinary passion in Kelston Moore that he’s carried into his professional life.

In between fatherhood, working as a private chef and as the chef at the Cococabana Rooftop Bar at The Brick Hotel in Oceanside (scheduled to open later this year), he’s providing support for fellow chefs as co-founder of the Bad Boyz of Culinary with friend and colleague Quinnton Austin, executive chef and co-owner of Louisiana Purchase.

“What did Michael Jackson mean when he said he was ‘bad’? It means the best. We are the best in all aspects of the culinary world,” Moore says of why they call themselves the Bad Boyz of Culinary, a collective of local chefs who want to highlight the talent of rising Black chefs in San Diego through scholarships, events, mentoring and special programs, while also creating community with each other.

One of those special programs is their Bad Boyz of Culinary Showcase on Monday at Louisiana Purchase in North Park. Styled after Food Network’s “Chopped” competition, four local chefs will create four dishes from a selection of surprise ingredients provided to them on the day of the competition. Guests can reserve tables for specific time slots, beginning at 3 p.m. with tickets ranging from $90 to $135 (with cocktail pairings).

Moore, 32, lives in La Jolla Village and has a son. He took some time to talk about his own journey as a chef, the people he’s learned from along the way, and finding the right balance between work, life and consistently striving for excellence.

Q: I understand that you and your co-founder and co-CEO, Quinnton Austin, started Bad Boyz of Culinary in 2020? What prompted the founding of this organization?

A: If I had to sum up a reason in one phrase, it would be “stronger together.” As a collective of goal-oriented chefs in the urban community, I believe it’s our duty to support each other and to educate our community about culinary arts and the logistics of this business. We believe our unity will set a precedent for overcoming the lack of support and any negativity associated with the idea of competition. Given that we are a network of chefs who work in catering, on yachts, in restaurants and as private chefs, we realized that there are a lot of chefs just starting out who could benefit from our accumulated knowledge.

When people think of a chef, they automatically think of someone like Gordon Ramsay, but there are numerous notable Black chefs who’ve been pivotal in the industry. Some of those chefs include Hercules Posey, George Washington’s enslaved cook; James Hemings, the first American to train as a chef in France; Mariya Russell, the first Black woman to be awarded a Michelin star; and James Beard Award-winning chefs Mashama Bailey and Kwame Onwuachi. Bad Boyz of Culinary wanted to shift the narrative and show more of who we are, where we’re from, and why we’re the best. The most effective way to do this was through collaboration.

Q: How would you describe the Black chef-culinary community in San Diego?

A: The Black chef culinary community in San Diego is a competitive brotherhood that’s also classy, innovative and thriving.

Q: Can you talk about the kinds of programs and resources you offer other Black chefs in San Diego?

A: We offer mentorship, which has been long overdue, and we’ve facilitated a scholarship fund to help those who want to go to culinary school. We are also responsible for an array of upcoming events, including our culinary showcase on Monday.

What I love about La Jolla Village …

The peace and quiet. There are so many working professionals here, from a stunt pilot, to authors, painters, and an exotic car collector. The possibilities are endless when it comes to learning about life from different perspectives.

Q: Tell us about the showcase. Where did the idea come from?

A: It came as a follow-up to previous events we held at Louisiana Purchase in San Diego and at Park 101 in Carlsbad. We wanted to start showcasing other talent in the city. By that time, most of the community had tasted our food, so we wanted to give others an opportunity to be seen.

Q: What are the rules/requirements for the participating chefs?

A: The four chefs won’t be able to prep anything ahead of time. Everything will be given to them on Monday, with options for proteins (beef, chicken, pork and local fish). Each chef will have one member of the organization as a mentor to advise them or give them a creative boost. They’ll have an initial headcount to work with, making this competition a challenge mentally and creatively.

Q: What is the purpose of the showcase?

A: The purpose is to highlight African American chefs, while having the community see the amount of talent that has been overlooked. This showcase is also for camaraderie and to build relationships that don’t typically happen between chefs, restaurant owners, vendors and the community.

Q: You grew up in Barbados and watched your father cook with passion, and he was known for his barbecue pigtails. Can you talk a bit about your own journey as a chef? How did you get started in this industry?

A: I used to watch as my dad would go from working at what’s now known as the Sandy Lane resort, to coming home where he’d immediately start cooking. He would have all of his friends and people in the neighborhood come hang out, play dominoes, laugh and just enjoy life. No one was rich, and no one cared. It was all about good food, good vibes, a lot of laughs and love. That’s where my passion for cooking came from. My journey as a chef has not been an easy one. There were no silver spoons here. I’ve gone from cooking in the Navy, to sleeping in my car, to traveling the world. Cooking is my salvation, my purpose, and my life’s work.

Q: How did you know that this was the kind of work you wanted to do?

A: I grew up cooking, and I loved it, but it was my best friend, Jason Thompson, inviting me to cook with him for an admiral’s change of command at the USS Midway to solidify it as a career for me. I observed as he created dishes so elegant, but also complex. I wanted to learn, I was eager, and that was the moment that I decided to take it seriously. That decision led to me being selected for the Navy’s culinary team.

Q: Who taught you how to cook, and what did that process look like?

A: Everyone I’ve met taught me how to cook. Cooking is a feeling and a passion. As a chef, I take a little something from everyone I meet and add it to my cooking. It could be a feeling, a unique energy, or actual food; it all contributes to my cooking in some small way. However, if I must name a few specific people, I will say my father and my two best friends, Jason Thompson and Joshua Jennings.

Q: What was the first dish you made that you were most proud of?

A: I would say steak and potatoes. The first dish I created was inspired by Jason. I was on the phone with him every five minutes, asking a million questions. We talked about everything from buying the ingredients at the store, to exactly how to cook it. I was just trying to recreate what he did. When I did it, I was so proud; honestly, though, the dish was horrible! The sauce was broken and back then, I didn’t even know what that meant. The potatoes should’ve been halved, and I should’ve never put sauce on the steak.

A few years later, I made the same dish and posted it on social media. Josh and Jason both called me immediately. When I got those calls, I knew they were calling to say it was clean because this time I didn’t ask them for help.

Q: How would you describe the food of Barbados? What kind of influence has your upbringing there had on your cooking?

A: The food in Barbados is a mixture of African, Portuguese, Indian, Irish, Creole and British. Most dishes are a mix of marinated seafood, and more than one side or salad. The standout dish of Barbados is called Cou Cou. It’s cornmeal porridge, served with flying fish and okra. It’s definingly my favorite. All my cooking has flavoring from home or is made with techniques from home. Pretty much, the base of every dish has Barbados in it.

Q: Since you’re from Barbados, you know I have to ask you about Rihanna. Have you had an opportunity to cook for her?

A: Haha, no I have never met her or cooked for her, but I do get that a lot. Rihanna, if you’re reading this, please let me cook for you.

Q: If there are times when you don’t feel like cooking for yourself, whose local restaurant is at the top of your list for a meal?

A: That’s a hard one. Honestly, I would say I do frequent Louisiana Purchase for their crawfish wings. Also, everything on the menu at Surf & Soul Spot. They are the closest thing I have had to a home-cooked meal in a while.

Q: How would you describe your philosophy and approach to cooking?

A: I cook to make myself and everyone around me happy. That’s it.

Q: What’s been challenging about your work with Bad Boyz of Culinary, and also as a chef?

A: Balancing life. Honoring commitments. Building relationships. When it comes to those three things, I will not accept mediocrity from myself or my counterparts.

Q: What’s been rewarding about this work?

A: Knowing that I created something worthwhile, artistic and fulfilling.

Q: What has this work taught you about yourself?

A: To be humble, coachable, and most importantly, loving myself and making time for myself and my son.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: “The help I didn’t get was all the help I needed.” Take the things you experience and learn from them.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: That I am from Barbados, haha. They see it on my chef’s coat, but they always say, “Man, you don’t have an accent,” until they hear me on the phone with my dad and my sister.

Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: That’s hard because I haven’t had a free weekend in a very long time. I would say kicking back with friends, eating at different restaurants, and sleeping in.

Rebecca R. Ammons

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