chefs, New Orleans

New Orleans Prepares To Celebrate Juneteenth With A Culinary Feast

Some of the city’s best chefs will cook over an open flame, a tradition that dates back several centuries to the practices of enslaved Black Americans and Africans on the continent.

New Orleans is preparing to celebrate Juneteenth in the most New Orleans way: through culinary excellence. Seven chefs will participate on June 16 at Grow Dat Youth Farm during the Third Annual Afro Freedom Afro Feast Juneteenth Celebration. 

As Eater New Orleans reports, the event is intended to celebrate the community’s elders and the city’s culinary tradition. Some of the city’s best chefs will cook over an open flame, a tradition that dates back several centuries to the practices of enslaved Black Americans and Africans on the continent. 

Seringe Mbaye, a managing chef at Dakar Nola, told the magazine that he is enjoying how the event has grown over the past few years. 

“This event has become bigger than me, which has always been my intention,” Mbaye said. “Seeing it grow, seeing so many chefs doing a tremendous amount of work in the community, it’s just amazing. We are sharing our story and inspiring youth, not just for African American communities, but for our own community here in New Orleans.”

Charly Pierre, who works for the Haitian restaurant Fritai and has been involved from the start, told Eater that the change in venue has made the event more accessible to more people. 

“The first year we were on a farm in Mississippi, which was beautiful, but the centralized location at Grow Dat makes it more accessible to more people. I love where this is going. It’s a lot of work on the production side, but this group really puts their heart into it. We draw people, not just from New Orleans but from all over the country. “

Chef Martha Wiggins, who represents Café Reconcile at the celebration, told Eater that the bond she shares with Mbaye makes it one of the events she commits to each year. “Serigne is like a brother to me. I love the community that it encourages, the spirit behind the event. I trust those involved. The values and mission are a perfect fit.”

Wiggins continued, “It all comes together very organically for us. One of the things I really love to do is slow cook in big pots, which is why field peas and collards work so well for me. We all collaborate well and show up authentically. We have constant conversations about the history of race and civil rights in New Orleans. We talk about Juneteenth, but more importantly, the idea that every month is Black History Month.”

The Juneteenth Celebration began on Ben Burkett’s farm in Petal, Mississippi, in 2021 but moved to New Orleans City Park in 2023. In addition to Mbaye, Pierre, and Wiggins, Chefs Nina Compton, Prince Lobo, Kaitlyn Guerin, and Shonda Cross will also participate in the event. In a press release announcing the event, Mbaye called attention to the synergy between the location of the event, its mission, and the values of the New Orleans community. 

“We will converge at the Grow Dat Youth Farm to focus on sustainability, the land’s beauty, and its bountiful harvest while honoring our ancestors who cultivated this very soil,” Mbaye said. “We invite everyone to join us in commemorating history, celebrating culinary artistry, and inspiring our community while supporting the growth of our local youth.”

Julie Gable, the co-executive director of Grow Dat Youth Farm, and Lily Mejia, the development manager of the Farm, indicated their excitement for the event via a joint statement in the press release. “Grow Dat Youth Farm is pleased to be the host site of Afro Freedom Afro Feast in collaboration with Dakar NOLA,” the pair said. “As a youth-serving organization committed to solidarity and the love of land, we take pride in the land we steward being used as a space for folks across the African Diaspora to commune, to celebrate, and to honor our ancestors on Juneteenth – and that our young leaders can bear witness to and participate in this joy!”

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