Flavors of resilience, victory, and unity

The third annual Taste of Juneteenth.


This Sunday, the Island community came together to celebrate unity while supporting local Black and indigenous culinary professionals at the third annual Taste of Juneteenth. The event, which took place at the P.A. Club, featured the works of seven talented BIPOC chefs. 

Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates the effective end of slavery in the U.S. In 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation spread the news of freedom to all enslaved people in Confederate states. However, this could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. It took 2½ years for freedom to make its way to the Westernmost rebelling state, Texas. On June 19 in 1865, an army of Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and announced that all enslaved people in the state were to be free. This day came to be known as Juneteenth, marking our country’s second independence day. 

The phrase “African Diaspora” is used to describe the mass voluntary and involuntary dispersion of peoples from Africa to various parts of the world. As Africans spread across the globe, primarily to the Americas, they brought with them a rich and vibrant history of culinary experience. This history blended with native food, resulting in dishes that have become staples. Many of these dishes were seen on Sunday, including fried chicken, ribs, salmon, jerk pork, brisket, watermelon salad, coconut shrimp, and much more. Each dish served reflected the diverse and vibrant Black cultural experience, blending traditions from around the world.

The Islands chapter of the NAACP was founded in 1963, and is the oldest civil rights organization on the Island. They have been holding the annual Taste of Juneteenth as a way for the Island community to immerse themselves in a celebration of Black culture, cuisine, and liberation, highlighting the talents of local Black and indigenous culinary professionals.

As guests arrived and smelled the delicious blend of flavors that had been prepared for them, they were welcomed by Toni Kauffman, the branch president of the NAACP. They were also told about the history of Juneteenth by the vice president, Russell Ashton, who thanked everyone for being there. 

Chef Anthony Foster of Chef Anthony Catering served BBQ ribs and homestyle cornbread. He has a long history of working with the NAACP. “In the ’90s I would do events on South Beach in Edgartown and I would raise money for the NAACP, so that they could send students on the Island to college,” said Foster. 

Foster studied at Johnson and Wales University College of Culinary Arts. He came to the Island many years ago in a three-piece suit, hitchhiked to Edgartown and got a job at the Seafood Shanty, where he began his journey as a chef on the island. 

“Personally, I love when I make people feel happy when I prepare food for them. It goes back to your culture, and it goes back to your upbringing. The history of my culture goes all the way back to Panama, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Africa,” said Foster. 

Chef Canieka Fleming was one of the event’s primary organizers, and values the importance of providing BIPOC chefs with a space to highlight their food. She served deconstructed red velvet bread pudding and a brisket taste, which was a pastry shell topped with slow-roasted brisket, pickled onions, and sweet potato purée. 

Before coming to the Island to run Loud Kitchen, Fleming studied at the Culinary Institute of America. She was unenthused by the use of the term soul food. “None of us make soul food; we are all high-end caterers, we’ve been to culinary school, we have studied in renowned areas of our fields, and we have to fall into this soul food role,” said Fleming. 

“When we come here, a lot of us tend to come back to our roots because that’s what we know, that’s what we grew up on, but at the same time, that is not what we serve. We all can do the same amount of things that other chefs on this island can do,” said Fleming.

Fleming continued, “The reason soul food was even created was because we had to take the food that was left over, and we had to turn it into something that was edible. It was chitterlings, pigs’ feet, ribs, the dark meat of the chicken; we got all of the leftovers, and then we had to turn it into actual food.” 

Chef Ting of Black Joy Food Love, who was recently awarded second best caterer on the Island, also expressed disapproval of being boxed into the soul food category. “Chefs of color are limited to the assumptions that our food is less fancy, but if anyone asked us, we would be happy to share exactly the seven elements that went into making each dish. The assumption is that we are barbeque chefs, and we have to change that,” said Ting. 

Ting included special praise for Fleming, “I believe that Canieka is the only classically trained Black chef on-Island. We all have tremendous experience, but she brings behind her the Culinary Institute of America, which is a whole different level of training education that she actually shares with us, and she deserves to be highlighted because of that.”

“There are lots of ways you can learn about cooking; for me, I visited women in villages around the world. In those villages I would find grandmothers, and I would ask them to show me their technique. A lot of us were lucky enough to learn from family members,” said Ting. 

Chef Lori of Lori Edmonds Homestyle Chef served Daddy’s Crispy Fried Chicken, with a watermelon blueberry citrus salad topped with fresh mint and pure maple syrup. The recipe for the chicken was passed down from her father. 

Other featured chefs included Chef Winston Christie of Linda Jean’s and Winston’s Kitchen, Chef Newton Waite of Vineyard Caribbean Cuisine, and Chef Ralston Francis of Edgartown Diner and 11 Circuit. 

The event also featured the work of Vineyard artists and artisans, including three island students who were announced the winners of the Marie B. Allen Juneteenth Creative Arts contest. This contest is dedicated to Marie B. Allen, former NAACP Martha’s Vineyard branch president.

By including different cuisines and personal stories, chefs and speakers took guests on a culinary journey, sharing with them not just delicious food but also the vibrant history of freedom, family, and joy that is celebrated on Juneteenth.