Last week, the sixth season of Chef's Table premiered on Netflix. This season brings four new episodes that follow four very different chefs, and while we're excited to get to know all of these impressive culinary minds, we're especially intrigued by Chef Mashama Bailey. Chef Bailey has received impressive accolades like being named a finalist for the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef Southeast award in 2018, but for us, what's so interesting about her goes beyond any tangible accomplishment.
Mashama Bailey is the executive chef and partner at The Grey in Savannah, GA. Together with founding partner John O. Morisano, she opened the restaurant inside a renovated Greyhound Bus station in 2014. In a 2018 interview with Diced, Bailey explained, "I think Savannah was the right place to do it because it was really welcoming and the food waves are being reborn. It's cool to be around like-minded people in a city that's growing.”
Though she was born in the Bronx, studied at the Institute of Culinary Education's New York campus, and worked in NYC restaurants for many years, the chef's roots are in Georgia. Her mother's family is from Waynesboro, GA, and Bailey spent summers visiting her grandmother there. It was these visits to the south and the meals her grandmother cooked for her during her time there that ignited her passion for cooking and southern food.
In 2007, Bailey spent five months in France, and it was here that she became interested in the idea of bringing Europe's "community approach to food" to the south. "You could grow things down the street and people would bring you animals that you would butcher yourself in the restaurant. I thought that was an awesome way to be a chef and the only place that I could do that would be in the South," she told Diced in 2018.
Her Biggest Inspiration
Edna Lewis, an African American chef and author who is known for creating a southern cooking revival, has had a huge influence on Bailey. She first discovered Lewis at the beginning of her studies at the Institute of Culinary Education. Having been given an assignment to write an essay about a professional chef who inspired her, Bailey went in search of someone she could identify with. "As the opening chef at Café Nicholson in New York in the 1950s, she showcased simple foods and was heap with praise for it. Through Miss Lewis, I realized that there was a place for black women, like me, in professional kitchens, and that I wasn't alone," Bailey wrote in the July 2018 issue of Cherry Bombe.
Chef Bailey returned to her books for guidance after moving to Savannah to open her restaurant, according to a 2017 Eater piece naming The Grey the publication's Restaurant of the Year. She even used chapter titles from In Pursuit of Flavor as headers on The Grey's menu. Now, Bailey serves as chairman of the board of the Edna Lewis Foundation, whose mission, according to its website, is to "revive, preserve, and celebrate the rich history of African-American cookery by cultivating a deeper understanding of Southern food and culture in America."