After being sidelined last year due to COVID-19, the Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival is back for its annual two-day celebration of live music and soul food at Riverfront Plaza in downtown Baton Rouge this weekend.
The festival was created to bring attention to the importance of authentic soul food and to re-energize Black culinary entrepreneurs to start soul food enterprises, says founder and musician Henry Turner Jr.
“Ever since I can remember, our community was popping with soul food and culture, but in the early ’90s, we started seeing a decline of restaurants because soul food was considered unhealthy,” Turner says.
But people didn’t stop eating soul food, he adds. Soul food emerged in gas station eateries and was part of plate lunch restaurants where Black cooks were often employed, Turner says.
The Soul Food Festival celebrates the popularity of the indigenous foodway, which was born out of the Black community’s talent for extracting flavor from low-cost and even discarded ingredients.
Turner says his hope for the festival is to encourage grassroots culinary talent to consider starting their own businesses. Several caterers and food entrepreneurs will participate both as vendors and in the festival’s cooking competition.
“We know the cooks are still out there, and we want to bring them to the forefront,” Turner says.
Cooking competitions in several categories, including entrees, sides, appetizers, desserts and drinks, will take place on Saturday and Sunday. The festival will also include several booths where patrons can purchase different soul food dishes.
Vendors include Alexandra’s Amazing Creations with chicken and waffles, fried chicken thighs and yams; Jamaican Vibes with Caribbean food; Sweetly Blessed Desserts with ooey gooey cakes and other sweets; and several other vendors selling savory entrees, sides, desserts and snoballs.
The festival also includes the annual Pioneer Award. This year’s honoree is the late Lizzie Griffin, former cook at the now-closed Night Cap bar who was famous for fried fish and fried chicken wings. Griffin’s children, Ricky and Kawanda Griffin, opened Lizzie’s Restaurant on Tom Drive in her memory in 2016.
While soul food is central to the festival’s theme, the schedule also includes back-to-back musical acts and performers playing a wide variety of genres, including blues, jazz and gospel.
Turner, an accomplished musician known for an eclectic musical style, will host the Greens, Beans and Chicken Wings pre-party at the Henry Turner’s Listening Room on Thursday, June 25.
Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival
Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Find more information: Baton Rouge Soul Food Festival