Seven of the Best Chefs in New Orleans Are Teaming Up to Celebrate Juneteenth (2024)

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Fritai Dakar NOLA

The way Dakar Nola chef Serigne Mbaye sees it, the third annual Afro Freedom Afro Feast Juneteenth Celebration has taken on a life of its own.

“This event has become bigger than me, which has always been my intention,” says Mbaye, who founded the annual celebration of Black culture and gastronomy. “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.”

Seven of the Best Chefs in New Orleans Are Teaming Up to Celebrate Juneteenth (1) Josh Brasted/Eater

There are still a few tickets available to the June 16 event, which unfolds from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Grow Dat Youth Farm at 150 Zachary Taylor Drive in New Orleans City Park. As an intimate celebration of elders and culinary tradition, some of the city’s best chefs gather to cook over open flames, a practice that has existed for centuries for Black Americans and native Africans. Juneteenth honors the day when the last enslaved African Americans were freed in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, more than two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

In addition to Mbaye, the team of chefs and restaurateurs includes Nina Compton of Compère Lapin and BABs, Charly Pierre of the Haitian restaurant Fritai, Martha Wiggins of Café Reconcile, Prince Lobo of the Ethiopian restaurant Addis NOLA, Kaitlin Guerin of Lagniappe Bakehouse, and Shonda Cross of Chef Shonda’s Fine Dining To-Go. From flame to plate on the farm, the communal feast menu is still in process, but judging from past years, a variety of local and sustainably sourced proteins, sides, and vegetables will be on offer.

Seven of the Best Chefs in New Orleans Are Teaming Up to Celebrate Juneteenth (2) Randy Schmidt/Eater NOLA

Priced at $200, tickets include all food, drink, and entertainment for the outdoor event. Menu items include yuca bites with smothered onions and jollof rice from Mbaye, hot fire chicken and salad from Compton, chicory candied pecans and strawberry cake from Guerin, watermelon gazpacho and redfish court-bouillon from Cross, smothered sea island peas with cornbread and gulf fish ceviche from Wiggins, plantain chips and grilled meat with roasted pepper from Pierre, and marmite shrimp and Ethiopian collards from Lobo.

Pierre, who centers and celebrates his Haitian roots at his Treme restaurant, Fritai, has been involved from the start. “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,” he says of the event’s evolution and new location. Pierre will make an appetizer and grill red meat, to be certain, but is still refining the particulars of his part of the menu. Coming off his successful participation in Jazz Fest, which he sees as a boon before New Orleans’s impending summer tourism slowdown, Pierre considers Afro Freedom Afro Feast as yet another way to introduce others to his culture.

Seven of the Best Chefs in New Orleans Are Teaming Up to Celebrate Juneteenth (3) Randy Schmidt/Eater NOLA

“I love where this is going,” Pierre says. “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. “

Working with Grow Dat, which teaches leadership, sustainable farming, wellness, and food justice to a diverse cohort of New Orleans youth, aligns with chef Martha Wiggins’ mission at Café Reconcile, which also supports local youth by teaching life skills and offering mentoring in the field of hospitality. It all comes together very organically for us,” says Wiggins, who has been on board with Afro Freedom Afro Feast since its launch event at Ben Burkett’s farm in Petal, Mississippi in 2021, where two goats were roasted as part of festivities. “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.”

Wiggins says she is choosy about the events she agrees to participate in, but Afro Freedom Afro Feast is a given every 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.”

The chef plans to bring a few young people from Café Reconcile to join the ranks of workers, which will include a team from NOCHI and of course Grow Dat. Understanding the purpose and the big picture is always on the table, she says.

“We have constant conversations about the history of race and civil rights in New Orleans,” says Wiggins. She sees a growing awareness of Juneteenth in the young people in her circle, which she attributes in part to social media. “We talk about Juneteenth, but more importantly the idea that every month is Black History Month.”


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Seven of the Best Chefs in New Orleans Are Teaming Up to Celebrate Juneteenth (2024)
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