After running a national foundation dedicated to advocating for restaurant workers across the country during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, chef Kiki Louya is taking her focus back home.
Starting next month, Louya, formerly a partner in Folk and the Farmer’s Handand a contender on Season 18 of Top Chef, will take on a new role as executive director of the youth-centered Detroit Food Academy. She previously worked as the first-ever executive director for the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, a national advocacy nonprofit headquartered in New York. The Detroit-based organization teaches school-aged kids skills in the kitchen — and in life — with professional development programming such as Small Batch Detroit, the online gift shop featuring packaged food items created by youths from the kitchen at the Peaches and Greens produce market in the city’s Piety Hill neighborhood.
Louya tells Eater she hopes that in her new role, she will be able to broaden Detroit Food Academy’s reach by creating opportunities for young people to network with former participants who’ve gone on to enjoy professional success — whether inside a restaurant kitchen or not.
“I would love to start to build a better connection between our alumni and the current students, because they’re now they’re in the industry, or they’ve moved on to other parts of their lives, maybe they’re in school, maybe they’re in a really great job, whatever it is, they’ve learned a lot,” Louya says. “I think that that connection back to kids who are currently in the program will help them understand what’s possible.”
Louya sees opportunities to widen the scope of what a food job can be for kids participating in the program. “When I think about being young and being in the industry, I had no idea, for example, that food writing was a thing that I could do. I didn’t know that being [an] executive director of a food-based nonprofit was something that I could aspire to. I didn’t know that I could create content and videos and do recipes and things like that.”
Down the line, Louya says she would love to find a centralized headquarters for the nonprofit, which currently operates out of the Green Garage co-working space in Midtown and from several kitchen sites throughout the city.
Louya’s new post comes a little over a year after she left her foundation job. She says that the organization was able to distribute grants to some 30-plus organizations throughout the country, which then provided cash assistance to restaurant workers in need.
Since then, Louya has refocused her energy on local impact, continuing work as a consultant for developers interested in building restaurants in their properties, pursuing a Master’s degree in urban planning from Wayne State University, and contributing pieces to Hour Detroit’s August 2022 issue, The Future of Food. The series earned the chef her first journalism award for her reporting on the impact of Black and brown chefs, farmers, and activists in the region who are working toward more equitable and sustainable foodways.