On last Monday, May 6, the executive chef of the Savannah-based restaurant, The Grey, was awarded the 2019 James Beard award for best chef in the southeast.
Mashama Bailey was nominated in the category for the second year in a row, and is the second woman of color to win a best chef regional Beard award. Bailey is the third Savannah chef to be awarded the honor.
Bailey has also been featured on season six of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. On the show she discusses growing up in Savannah and how that has influenced her culinary decisions.
“As a child in Savannah, there was just a sense of freedom here,” Bailey said. She fondly remembers buying “thrills” and then returning home to her grandmother, an avid cook.
Her family soon moved to New York City and Bailey acquired a degree in social work. However, she realized that she needed to cultivate her talents with food and later went to culinary school.
She moved back to the hostess city when she got in touch with acquaintance Johno Morisano who was looking to open a restaurant in Savannah.
It was when she was eating at the Mayflower that she had an epiphany about the kind of food she wanted to serve.
“I take one taste of it, and I’m back in my grandmother’s kitchen,” said Bailey. And I have this aha moment that I’ve been eating this way all my life, and that I wasn’t aware that there was actually restaurants built around the food that I grew up on.”
She eventually opened up the Grey, which highlights local seafood and vegetables, with a few nods to her time in New York.
When speaking of Savannah, Bailey is dedicated to giving a piece of history through her cooking.
“African-American history in this area is so rich. These traditions and food, it’s about the storytelling and preserving heritage. Whenever you get a bunch of people at a table, you learn about the people at that table. The young folks learn about their elders, they learn about their culture, and listen to stories about the past. I feel this responsibility to educate people through my cooking. That’s the part of Savannah that I want to share.”