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Empowering Restaurants in America

Chef Mashama Bailey Dishes Out Food for Thought for Aspiring Chefs

Photo: Courtesy of Cedric Smith

Food was an intrinsic part of Bailey’s upbringing. Caring for her younger brother and sister,  she was often responsible for feeding them. “I was a latchkey kid, and because my parents were working, I used to have to make things that were quick and convenient… and high in sodium,” she recalls with a laugh.  

Multicultural education

In Bailey’s early teenage years, her grandmother would take the children out on Saturdays, driving out of the way in search of the freshest ingredients from the best stores. “With my parents, it was about sustenance and convenience, but with my grandmother it was freshness and availability.”

She spent two years at community college in NYC, where her roommates introduced her to Southern staples like allspice, sofrito and plantains. Developing a taste for these ingredients, they became part of her repertoire. But cooking was never her first choice for a career. She admits it was always in the background, but it wasn’t until she was out of college, psychology degree in-hand, and working with New York’s homeless that she truly welcomed her culinary calling.

Moving down south

With her experience and passion, she knew her dream was to open a restaurant, but wasn’t sure how to go about such an undertaking. In walked John O. Morisano. After 12 years of apprenticeships and being a sous-chef at New York’s Prune restaurant, she took a leap of faith and joined Morisano, her now business partner, for what would become Savannah’s premier eatery.

“When this opportunity came along, I was skeptical because it fell out of the sky when I wasn’t looking for it,” Bailey remembers. “We walked into this building, and that was the part that had me believe I could do this.” The Grey opened in December 2014. A mere three years later, they were voted Eater’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year.

Bailey’s advice to all aspiring chefs and restauranteurs: “Follow your gut, go with your heart because it always works out. Cook the food you like, the food you want to eat because if you love it, other people will too.”

Now that’s food for thought. 

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