Unapologetic Figures: Mariya Russell

First Black Woman Michelin Star Recipient

Step into the world of culinary artistry and prepare to be captivated by the trailblazing talent of Mariya Russell. With her avant-garde approach to fine dinng, Russell has emerged as a rising star in the world of fine dining. Her culinary finesse, combined with an unapologetic attitude, has solidified her place among the most revered chefs of our time.

As the first Black American woman to receive a Michelin star, Mariya Russell has shattered glass ceilings and challenged the status quo, paving the way for a new era of inclusivity in the culinary world. Her bold and innovative creations tantalize the taste buds, inviting diners to embark on a journey of flavors that defy convention.

Russell's philosophy is rooted in embracing her heritage while pushing boundaries and reshaping the definition of luxury dining. Her dishes embody a harmonious blend of classic techniques and contemporary interpretations, with each plate telling a story of passion, culture, and resilience.

In this exclusive interview with The Sabreen Edit, we delve into the extraordinary life and culinary vision of Mariya Russell. Join us as we uncover the inspirations behind her culinary creations and discover the unapologetic spirit that fuels her success.

Prepare to be inspired, as we dive into the world of Mariya Russell—a visionary chef unafraid to challenge conventions, a true maverick carving her own path, and an unapologetic figure redefining the very notion of luxury in the culinary arts.

Can you take us on a culinary journey, from your early beginnings in the industry to your current position as a renowned Michelin-star Chef and Restaurateur?

It all started when I was a little girl. I grew up in a large loving family where food was always at the center of everything we did together. My family taught me the importance of community through delicious food and loving gatherings. That is where my passion for food started. In high school, I had the opportunity to attend a vocational school that included a restaurant run by the students.  Each student worked every position from dishwasher to host. I fell in love, and following that passion led me to become the first black woman to receive a Michelin star. I went to culinary school in Chicago after I graduated from high school, and worked my way up in kitchens for 15 years. I most definitely had my struggles but my love for food and community kept me pushing towards my dreams. My husband and I left the industry and moved to Hawaii for a couple of years, after the pandemic started, to rest, reprioritize our values, and get our goals and dreams down on paper. Taking care of ourselves became more and more important to us and we didn’t feel as though we could continue the lifestyle, so we had to make some changes. We are currently living in Nashville, Tennessee and we are closer and closer to having our own restaurant space with each pop-up dinner we execute!

What fuels your passion for cooking, and how do you consistently innovate and push boundaries in the culinary world to stay ahead of the game?

The feeling of satisfaction is one of the things that fuels my passion! I believe that being truly satisfied is one of the reasons why we are on this earth. If I'm able to translate that feeling through my food, I’m doing what I was sent here to do! I also just truly love to eat! 

I believe being consistent and able to execute are two of the most important things you need to be able to do in this industry. And I keep that in mind whenever we are planning to do anything.

Right now I am doing a lot of work on myself and I feel that is what keeps me pushing boundaries and limits with food. I’m trying things that I haven’t done before that I make up in my head. Playing around a lot and exploring food like I haven’t in the past as well as honoring my own preferences and process is helping me evolve into the chef that I want to be. 

Risk-taking is an essential aspect of any successful career. Can you tell us about the most rewarding risk you have taken in your culinary journey and how it has contributed to your success?

I took a pretty big risk when I decided to leave the industry for a little while to reset and change directions to focus more on what I ultimately wanted for myself. It’s been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

Is there a specific project or initiative that you are particularly proud of, and why was it meaningful to you?

There are quite a few things that I’ve done to make me feel proud of myself. One that I think of often is what I was able to accomplish year after year on my career path. Whatever I faced or went through I hung in there because I had a vision and was determined to let nothing get in the way of it. I wouldn't be here if I wasn’t resilient, and if I didn’t choose to persevere. So, my life’s work. I'm very proud of that.

What advice would you give to aspiring chefs or restaurateurs who are just starting out in the industry?

Work in restaurants before you decide if this is a career choice you’d like to make. This industry is hard and I think it's important for you to experience it before you make any commitments. 

Find what you like. There is so much about cooking that is based on your personal preferences. So if this is what you want to do, finding what you like most and surrounding yourself with it will keep you the most happy.

Monitor your feelings and check in with yourself consistently. Take care of yourself, even with little things like eating and hydration. 

Follow your gut- if something isn’t feeling right for you take the steps to figure out why and figure out what you need to do to change your situation. 

Don't put limits on what you're capable of: You’re only limited by how you limit yourself and don’t let anyone dictate that for you. You can do anything you want to do 

Don't let fear keep you from anything: Even when things are challenging we are equipped to do anything we put our minds to. We can achieve anything we see ourselves achieving. And yes things can get hard and it’s important to be aware of those feelings but at the same time know that with them you are still capable of being the best. We can do hard things.

Credit: Alex Garcia

Balancing personal and professional life can be challenging in any field. How do you manage to strike a balance, and what practices or strategies do you use to maintain a sense of equilibrium and wellbeing?

I take breaks as much as possible. Right now my schedule is pretty spontaneous so I have the opportunity to make my schedule which is an amazing change of pace for me. I’ve been doing my very best to schedule days off where I do nothing. It’s good for my brain to rest, so I do that. Especially because we have been traveling for pop-ups and that will take a lot out of you. I give these things my all so I make sure I give myself enough time to recover before I start going hard again. I’m figuring it all out little bit by little bit but I’m finding the balance in it. Teaching myself how to be more present, and live a slower, more intentional existence.

Who is your role model that inspires you to live unapologetically and not give in to societal pressures or media influences?

I honestly can’t name just one. There are so many people in my life that pour life back into me. My family, my sisters, aunts, cousins, and chosen family. The combination of all the beautiful humans that make up my support system has helped me to see and appreciate who I am, which gives me the energy to be myself in every moment, even if I have to fight for it.

Can you share an instance where you made a decision unapologetically, and what motivated you to pursue that course of action?

Becoming an entrepreneur was a very natural next step in my journey and I feel I have no other choice but to be unapologetic in this because it is a combination of my vision and my husband’s. I have to be able to translate what I see for myself and us through every decision, and I can’t second guess. It has to be fully me. I have to commit to being my full self or it won't feel right for me.

Who has been the most impactful and influential figure in your life, and how have they shaped your culinary journey and philosophy?

My husband for sure. We met working side by side in the industry and fell in love. He had more experience than I did at the time and I've learned so much from him ever since and vice versa. We have so many of the same views about food and love and life. He has also helped me make some really hard decisions, so having the opportunity to be a part of an evolving growing relationship like ours means so much to me.

10. Who/What inspires you to BE UNAPOLOGETIC ™?

My ancestors. I wouldn't be where I am without them. They worked hard to make sure we could live better lives and have better things. I don't feel like I have any other choice but to be unapologetic.

11. Where can the Haus of Sabreen connect with you? 

You can find me on Instagram @mariyarussell_ and I also have YouTube channel @mariyarussell_

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