Top Chef Judge Kwame Onwuachi Shares His Best Cooking Tips - Exclusive

Everyone has cooking tips — from that coworker who thinks your potluck dish was a little too spicy, to celebrities who have penned their very own cookbooks. If you're going to take anyone's advice, though, we recommend heeding the words of Kwame Onwuachi, a "Top Chef" judge and contestant who opened five restaurants before turning 30. A winner of the prestigious James Beard Award, Onwuachi was named "Chef of the Year" by Esquire (via Patch) and has cooked for the Obamas, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé.

So what kernels of wisdom does this culinary legend have to offer the everyday cook? In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Onwuachi revealed that the difference between "good" and "blah" food all comes down to the seasoning. "Always finish your food with a little bit of salt, and then some acids. Like some lemon or lime," he advised. "That's really, really important to set the flavors off and make sure that your dishes are going to stand out and [be] 'Top Chef' worthy." Will any salt do? Not quite, according to Onwuachi, who has a particular passion for Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. "It has the perfect size of granules," he explained, so "if you have Diamond Crystal salt, you can get away with seasoning your food just with salt because of the way it disperses on the food. It has a very even-like crumb to it."

The best food has a cultural backstory, according to chef Onwuachi

Beyond how you season your food, it's also important to pay homage to your heritage when you cook, according to Kwame Onwuachi. The New York-born, Nigerian-raised chef revealed that his background has an important impact on his cooking. "I have a good Rolodex of flavor profiles to reach into, having the Trinidadian background — Jamaican, Nigerian," Onwuachi explained. "I'm able to really use that and express that through my cuisine and my heritage." You may find it meaningful to explore the culinary traditions of your own heritage, he added. "For some people it is comforting. For some people it is explorative," Onwuachi said. "And I think that's why it's great to really dive into your culture."

Not sure what traditions are part of your family's history? Do research, Onwuachi advised. "You should always reach back," he explained. "When a dish tells a story, it has a soul. So I think that's really, really important for people to understand." If you're not up for doing the legwork, though, what matters the most is that your food expresses emotion, said Onwuachi, who credits his mother for teaching him the importance of "cooking with love and cooking from a place of hospitality."

The best cooks care about their environment, according to Chef Onwuachi

The concept of cooking with love, of course, applies to the people you'll be serving, like your mother when she's over for dinner. But it also means showing love for Mother Earth, according to Onwuachi, who is a strong advocate for sustainable cooking practices. "You should care about where your stuff comes from. You should care about waste," he explained. "Because we want to leave this earth better than when we found it. And we have direct access to a lot of those resources."

Cooking with organic ingredients isn't always practical, Onwuachi concedes. But either way, "I try to be conscious about the decisions I'm making about what I put in my body. And what I put in other people's bodies, right? I have that responsibility," he explained. This extends beyond the kitchen, Onwuachi said. "Just be mindful of what you're purchasing, where you're spending your dollars, and what you're putting in your body," he added.

Chef Kwame Onwuachi's most recent collaboration has been with Belvedere Vodka. Explore their Organic Infusions line.