CAREERS: Meet Mashama Bailey

Posted by on Feb 20, 2020 in Careers

What’s amazing about Mashama Bailey, the chef whose Savannah, Georgia restaurant, The Grey, has taken the restaurant world by storm? Pretty much everything. Here, we take a closer look at her life, her cooking, and what makes her such a uniquely American icon.

Early Life

Bailey was born in the Bronx in New York, though she attended elementary school in Savannah, Georgia, where her mother’s family lived. She later returned to New York City full time, and after a stint waiting tables, she spent the next twelve years working her way up through the New York City restaurant scene, building her reputation. Eventually, Bailey was approached by New York venture capitalist John O. Morisano, who told her about his plan to turn an old Greyhound bus station in historic downtown Savannah into a restaurant and invited her to be his partner. So Bailey returned to her childhood home and got to work.

The Grey

The fruit of their combined labor was The Grey–which, as Morisano proposed, is housed in a formerly segregated Greyhound bus station building. Before they transitioned it to a restaurant, the separate “colored” waiting room still existed. In response to this, Bailey–herself a woman of color–makes sure that her servers are diverse, and that her customer base is too. Representation is very important to her.

Chef finishing dishes at restaurant
Credit: Klaus Vedfelt/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Chef Bailey acknowledges that Savannah residents are very choosy about what they like to eat, and so she carefully researches and thinks about her dishes. When the restaurant first opened, Bailey’s original goal was to please locals, rather than tourists, and to celebrate the culture of the city. In practice, however, she admits that the client base has become about fifty percent tourists, and that it’s a bit more upscale and expensive than she had originally intended. Still, the restaurant’s mission and vision remain the same.

According to Bailey, The Grey’s food incorporates Southern ingredients, African flavors, and European influences. She uses local meat and seafood, and much of the produce is grown on the premises. The menu includes such dishes as smoked collards; grilled beef tongue; beef short ribs; mustard green salad; sweet potato bisque; a variety of seafood options; and more.

Taking the South By Storm

And it’s working. In 2015, the Eater Awards named The Grey the year’s most beautiful restaurant. The same year, it earned a place on Addison’s 21 Best New Restaurants list, and was nominated for the 2015 James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant. In 2018, Time Magazine selected The Grey as one of the 100 best places in the world. The following year, The Grey was named one of Food & Wine Magazine’s best restaurants, while Bailey herself received the James Beard Award for being the best chef in the Southeast United States.

What Do You Think? Together with partner John Morisano, Bailey has written a book called Black, White, and The Grey, which focuses on the role that food can play in bridging racial divides. Do you think food has the power to do this? Explain, remembering to be respectful with your answer.