Gumbo Cooking Class

One of the cooking instructors holds up a spoon loaded with the different kinds of seafood in the gumbo, including oysters, shrimp, crawfish, and crab meat at the gumbo Viking cooking class at the Hilton Hotel on Jan. 31, 2013.

With a two-day long celebration, the Soul Food Festival returned to Baton Rouge this year for the fourth time. After the year-long hiatus due to the pandemic, vendors reopened their booths to welcome the city once again. Right in the front of the River Center plaza, street vendors lined up their carts along the streets of downtown, where crowds gathered from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 26 to partake in the delicious treats that the vendors had to offer. From seafood, to cocktails, to gourmet popcorn and shaved ice, there was something in it for everyone.

A live band played throughout the day with songs full of blues, jazz, gospel and of course, soul. My favorite was a jazz rendition of a song quite literally called “Soul Food” with the lyrics just pertaining to the foods that were being sold and how they made the artist feel (which was happy, obviously).

Henry Jr. Turner, the organizer of the Soul Food Festival, exclaimed his excitement towards reviving the festival as the pandemic left a lot of event planners with huge uncertainty over what would happen for this year. Many of the musical performers and vendors that were scheduled last year managed to make their appearances for 2021. One highlight that was presented for both Saturday and Sunday ended up being the presentation of the kings and queens of the Mr. Black Louisiana and Miss Black Empowerment. Artists that ended up showing included comedy from Eddie “Cool” Deemer and even acts from Joe Monk Jam. The festival still followed all of the newer COVID-19 protocols.

Alongside the food and music, the festival also included a lot of arts and crafts. A caricaturist was present at the event and was personally a favorite of mine. There were tables and booths set up around the perimeter that included crafts, clothing items and more businesses supported by the community. There were also contests that were held during the earlier portions of Saturday with a judged soul food cooking contest.

Ricky and Kwanda, the children of Lizzie Griffin won the Pioneer Award for their contributions to the soul food industry. Lizzie Griffin is a well-known figure in the community with her soul food contributions within her restaurant, Lizzie’s Restaurant, as well as serving patrons at the former barroom Night Cap.

The event proved that no matter rain or shine, Baton Rouge is always ready for the Soul Food Festival and that being outdoors again and immersed within the community was something that was really taken for granted.

“The optimism that we are seeing for months with music and food lovers is giving us unlimited hope about the future of our festivals,” said Turner about the turnout for the event.

The vendors served great dishes all throughout. The excitement for what’s to come next year is already in play.

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