Celebrate Juneteenth with food & drink
Chefs in Georgia show you how
Juneteenth, celebrated June 19, is the oldest national celebration of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. It is not only a day of reflection, but also a day to celebrate African-American cuisine and culture. This week, cities around the state are hosting parades and festivals. Some businesses are organizing diversity-focused conversations. Black chefs and restauranters are also planning special meals and tasting events to educate and acknowledge the significance of the date.
Juneteenth in Brunswick
For Brunswick-based chef and farmer, Matthew Raiford, Juneteenth did not have much meaning until he was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, while serving in the U.S. Army.
“While growing up in Georgia, it was always about sitting at the church on ‘Watch Night’ aka Freedom’s Eve. However, once I joined the Army, I found that emancipation came to Texas six months later,” he says. “We started a tradition of going to a BBQ restaurant called Buffalo Soldiers and eating some of the most amazing smoked meats, roasted chicken, collard greens, mac-n-cheese, roasted corn on the cob and red velvet cake. Over those meals with my fellow soldiers is when I started having real conversations about Juneteenth.”
He will be serving a three-course dinner to celebrate Juneteenth at Lake & Oak Neighborhood Barbecue along with chefs Todd Richards and Josh Lee on June 17.
Raiford is also hosting author events all over the South to talk about his new cookbook Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer. Bress ‘n’ nyam means bless and eat in the Gullah-Geechee language.
Raiford shares recipes for dishes including hibiscus semifreddo, a frozen dessert; grilled watermelon and tomato salad with sangria vinaigrette; and sweet potato pone with layers of sweet potato pie, shredded sweet potato and caramelized-pecan topping, in his book.
Juneteenth in Atlanta
Gregory “Gee” Smalls, author of Black Enough Man Enough and co-owner of Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen & Bar and Breakfast Boys in College Park, is hosting special dinners at Virgil’s, along with live music and discussions. “Lots of people are just now discovering what Juneteenth is,” He says.
Virgil’s menu pays homage to his Charleston family’s Gullah-Geechee recipes, with a menu that includes red rice, simmered in tomato sauce with sausage, bacon, onion, peppers and seasoning.
Chef Deborah VanTrece of Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours restaurant in Atlanta, and author of The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food with Global Flavors, says that growing up in Kansas City, she did not celebrate Juneteenth. It was only after she moved to Dallas that she realized the meaning of the day. “In recent years, I have become intentional and outspoken about its significance to us,” she says. “The 2020 civil unrest prompted me to make a big deal out of it.”
VanTrece has planned a weeklong celebration that includes a book signing, fish fry at Steady Hand Beer Co., a toast to the “red drink” with mixologist Tiffanie Barriere, cooking demo at Freedom farmers market and special menus at Twisted Soul.
Her slow cooked rib tips pay an ode to her ancestors who used the inexpensive end pieces of spare ribs to create a dish that is full of flavor. VanTrece seasons her rib tips with cayenne, cumin, garlic, onion, smoked salt, butter and vinegar, then smokes them for two to four hours over charcoal, until tender, and serves them with sliced white bread. At her restaurant, she will also be baking Chef Jennifer Hill Booker’s classic red velvet tea cakes.
Celebrate at Home
If you can’t get out this week, you can celebrate Juneteenth at home. Foods that are naturally red in color – watermelon, strawberry, hibiscus, red rice, red soda, hot sauce and pork – are staples on Juneteenth to represent the blood spilled in the process of trying to free slaves. Classic Southern dishes such as collard greens, fried chicken, BBQ and fried fish are also cooked on this historic occasion.