Culinary historian Dan Kohler’s recent opinion piece in The Washington Post recounted how the Cooking Channel — a sister to The Food Network — wouldn’t allow him to reference slavery on his cooking show.
In contrast, a Lowcountry lifestyle blogger said she didn’t experience any pushback when detailing the history of Juneteenth for a series airing this month on Food Network’s website.
Michiel Perry, who uses the pen name “Black Southern Belle,” is hosting the series highlighting foods made to celebrate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.
“That was not my experience at all,” Perry said of Kohler’s editorial, which claimed he was asked to refer to the cargo ships used for transporting enslaved people as “16th-century cruise liners.”
In fact, she said Food Network let her run with her idea, and she wouldn’t have accepted anything less.
“I’ve been begging someone to let me do this project, and Food Network let me do it the way I wanted to do it and in a way that I was proud of doing it,” she said.
It was Perry’s first coproduction, though she said she’s received offers to star in television programs before.
“I like to write other people’s stories more than my own,” Perry said. “And there’s not a lot of stuff that highlights Black women chefs in the Lowcountry at all, though they are the original chefs.”
The series, which will have a digital debut in the days leading up to Juneteenth on June 19, will feature recipes along with the history of the holiday from the perspective of Perry and the featured chefs.
The three chefs featured in the series are: Charlotte Jenkins, an Awendaw Gullah chef and author of “Gullah Cuisine: By Land and by Sea;” Gina Capers, owner of Savannah catering company What’s Gina Cooking; and Emma Cromedy, founder of Summerville’s Carolima’s Dessert Boutique.
Each chef prepared on Perry’s front porch a different Juneteenth menu item. Jenkins stirred up an okra pilau; Capers cooked Southern fried fish with cabbage and collards; and Cromedy baked an old-fashioned pound cake and tea cakes.
Perry herself also joined in by making some Lowcountry shrimp and sausage muscadine skewers between interviews. Fresh local ingredients were used for each dish.
Taneka Reaves, founding member of custom beverage duo The Cocktail Bandits, also crafted a themed cocktail for the occasion, the “Red Star.”
Though Juneteenth originated in Galveston, Texas, Perry said the traditional foods enjoyed during the freedom celebration overlap with those of the coastal South.
“The story of emancipation spans a couple of years, and the Lowcountry is where a good chunk of it started,” Perry said. “People don’t think of island culture in Texas, but Charleston and Galveston have a similar culture and food.”
“Hot links and red drinks” have a variety of interpretations, and Perry said her crew made theirs with a decidedly Lowcountry twist.
“Nobody’s shrimp and grits is the same,” Perry said. “Everybody makes their dish a little different, and that’s across all food spectrums.”
She added that some of the simplest Southern dishes can actually be some of the hardest to make. That’s why she called in the experts.
“That’s who I grew up eating with,” Perry said of Black women chefs.
All-in-all, the Food Network tech crew — made up of mostly women, Perry noted — spent two days filming in May. It was a combination of the hottest and rainiest days of the month, “true traditional Lowcountry weather,” Perry said.
She said she hopes the series will showcase the ties between African American heritage and entrepreneurship and shine a light on some of the history of Juneteenth that viewers might not know about.
“The Juneteenth Menu” episodes drop every Friday and Wednesday from June 4 through June 18 at foodnetwork.com/JuneteenthMenu.
Reach Kalyn Oyer at 843-371-4469. Follow her on Twitter @sound_wavves.