Black History 365: Mashama Bailey

Mashama Bailey is an American chef trained in French technique who is currently cooking Southern cuisine. In 2019, Bailey was awarded a James Beard Award as best chef of the southeast.[1] In 2022, Bailey was awarded a James Beard Award as Outstanding Chef.[2]

Early life and education

Mashama Bailey was born to David and Catherine Bailey in the Bronx.[3] She was the eldest of three with one sister and one brother.[4] Bailey moved to Waynesboro, Georgia at the age of 2, Savannah, Georgia at 5, and then to Queens, New York when she was 11.[5] Bailey learned to cook from her mother and grandmother.[4]

After graduating from Francis Lewis High School, Bailey attended Sullivan County Community College[3] where she studied physical therapy and later switched to social work.[6] Early in her career Bailey worked at a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, New York. As the project underwent changes she was let go, an experience that became a catalyst for her to explore the culinary arts. [7] She enrolled in Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School, and after graduating began her culinary career at Aquagrill in SoHo. [7]

Bailey, interested in exploring the wider range of careers available in the culinary arts, took a break from the restaurant industry, during which time she worked as a personal chef on the Upper East Side.[8] This left some of her family concerned with the racial and class dynamics, as it seemed a return to how her grandmother migrated from Georgia to Manhattan and worked as a maid. Bailey’s grandmother worked within several households, one of the more famous being that of Art Carney. [3]

Working as a personal chef didn’t inspire Bailey as she had hoped, and during this time she applied for a work-study program that led her to Château du Fey in Burgundy, France.[4] There she was mentored by Anne Willan who advised her to continue cooking in restaurants instead of exploring a culinary writing career. [9]


Bailey started her career as an intern at Aquagrill in 2001, and also worked at David Burke and Donatella, and the Oak Room in the Plaza Hotel.[10] In 2010, Bailey was hired at Prune, where she was quickly promoted to sous-chef and worked for four years.[11]

Startup entrepreneur John O. Morisano heard about Bailey through the chef and owner of Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton, and reached out to her about a long-abandoned, former Jim Crow segregated Greyhound station he’d bought in Savannah, Georgia.[12][13] Across the street from the property is the Chatham County Courthouse where Bailey’s parents were married in the 1980s.[14] The restaurant, named The Grey, was nominated for the 2015 James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant.[15]

On October 15, 2018, Morisano and Bailey opened The Grey Market in Savannah inspired by Southern lunch counters and New York City bodegas.[16] Since 2017, Bailey has served as chairwoman of the Edna Lewis Foundation, which works to “revive, preserve, and celebrate the rich history of African-American cookery by cultivating a deeper understanding of Southern food and culture in America.”[11][17]


  • The Grey was named one of Food & Wine‘s best restaurants of 2019.[18]
  • Winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast in 2019.[1]
  • In 2018, she was nominated for the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Southeast.[19]
  • The Grey was one of Food & Wine‘s best restaurants of 2015.[20]
  • The Grey was the 2017 Restaurant of the Year from Eater[21]
  • The Grey was chosen as one of the best 100 places in the world by Time in 2018.[12]
  • Winner James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 2022. [2]


She was a featured chef in the sixth season of Netflix‘s Chef’s Table and was a guest on season 14, episode 6 of Top Chef.