Wondering How To Celebrate Juneteenth? Kardea Brown Has Some Tasty Tips

Kardea Brown


The Food Network star discusses the significance of family food traditions.

If you’ve watched the Food Network in the past few years, then you recognize chef Kardea Brown from her show, Delicious Miss Brown. As a former social worker turned culinary creator and bestselling author, she balances her expert grasp of contemporary Southern cuisine with a genuine love of home cooking. 

Brown’s content is precious because she specifically emphasizes the unique world of the Sea Islands and the preservation of Gullah/Geechee culture by passing along family recipes and customs to her viewers. And given Brown’s expertise, we sought out her seasoned advice on traditional ways to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday

In case you weren’t aware, Juneteenth, which is the first new federal holiday to be recognized since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983, is celebrated on June 19 each year (the name is a combination of the words June and nineteenth) and marks the emancipation of African-American slaves. While history buffs know the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1862, the news traveled slowly and was often ignored by Southern plantation owners. As a result, African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, were finally told they were free on June 19, 1865. 

Brown filled us in on what you can do to commemorate the holiday (including a dessert that’s perfect for the occasion) — plus, she dove into her own background to explain how she honors her own roots through her work.

KCM: Were you always interested in cooking? 

Kardea Brown: I always say that I come from a cooking family — my grandmother loved to cook, my mom loved to cook, my extended aunts and uncles all loved to cook. We loved food. I was always exposed to it, not necessarily in a professional way. There’s no one in my immediate family who’s a chef by trade, but I come from a long line of home cooks, so I was always around a big family with a big appetite. 

I was interested from a very young age in the mechanics of cooking. I grew up in a household where we weren’t necessarily given the permission to hang out with mom and grandma in the kitchen while they were cooking, but I was able to kind of sit in there and ask questions and help here and there when they were in a very good mood. Otherwise, they were the type of women that were just like, “Hey, I’m in the kitchen and when I’m in the kitchen, nobody better mess with me.” That’s how I grew up.

You specifically teach viewers and fans about the culture and cuisine of the Sea Islands. What do you want people to know about these food traditions? 

I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, which is a very special place. I’m also of Gullah/Geechee descent — the fabric of the American cuisine and southern soul food as we know it today started with Gullah/Geechee people. We were the first enslaved Africans from West Africa during the transatlantic slave trade. A lot of the meals that were prepared in the homes in the very beginning of American society were prepared by West African enslaved people. When I talk about the way that I grew up and the foods that I eat, it’s very interesting because a lot of people are so amazed to hear that there’s this distinct group of people that actually still carry on so much of their West African heritage. 

For instance, shrimp and grits is something that I’ve always eaten, since I was a child. It was a normal part of breakfast, even dinner sometimes. Now, many years later, you’ll see it on menus in Michelin-starred restaurants. But that’s what we ate out of necessity when I was growing up. Being a part of this culture, it’s been so important to expose that — a lot of people don’t necessarily know why they eat what they eat or why certain foods are an important part of American culture or cuisine. I like to talk about that through my cooking, through my show, and on social media. You don’t ever really think about what you’re eating when you’re eating it — how did it get to your table? That’s why I share the history of Gullah food and how it started.

 What does Juneteenth mean to you?

I didn’t necessarily grow up celebrating Juneteenth, but it’s something that I always knew about. Juneteenth started in Galveston, Texas, with the last freed black people in America. There’s a lot of tradition in that culture, and it’s very similar to tradition in the Lowcountry, Gullah/Geechee culture. 

It’s so meaningful to tell the story [of the holiday] and to recognize what took place. I always say that change and acceptance begins with acknowledging. The start of change is acknowledgement that these events occurred and shaped a culture and a nation thereafter. 

What are your tips for celebrating Juneteenth?

In my family, we prepare a meal that signifies what took place. Usually, that includes the color red. This past season of my show, I actually wanted to celebrate it on air and to show my viewers and people that this is a good way to celebrate — not only just having important conversations and having people gathered, but making some foods that help signify what took place. You can make a Swiss red velvet cake, a grilled watermelon salad, even a jambalaya with bright red tomatoes, or a family style fruit punch. But including red in your menu is so important. 

Why is the color red such a big part of Juneteenth?

It’s a little murky, but it signifies the bloodshed that happened to the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. Throughout the years, we’ve taken that bloodshed and turned it into something enjoyable, happy, and festive that’s also a remembrance. We’re taking that not-so-happy time and turning it into something we can celebrate and come together in fellowship with. The story behind the color red isn’t the most pleasant, but what we’ve turned it into today is something so special. 

What else are you working on right now?

The next season of Delicious Miss Brown is airing now on Food Network. That’s really, really exciting. I’m also working on a second cookbook that’s coming out in the fall of next year —  it’s all about paying homage to my mother as a single mother. She managed to make fabulous meals for me with very little to nothing. What we’re going through right now with inflation and the rising cost of living in general, this cookbook will help people cook fabulous meals with a very tight budget. You can take staple items in the freezer and your pantry to feed your family without breaking the bank.