Beginning a tradition

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Chef Earl launches Juneteenth celebration infused with cultural barbecue techniques

When Chef Earl Frederick was hired to teach at the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Culinary Institute five years ago, one of his “tenure goals” was to launch a Juneteenth celebration at Clark College. Sometimes known as Emancipation Day or Black Independence Day, the holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when Black enslaved people in Texas finally learned they were free, nearly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Frederick grew up in New York celebrating the holiday with a family reunion and cookout. On June 11, 2021, Frederick launched what he hopes will become a Juneteenth tradition at Clark College—albeit in a different format than he once imagined. To enforce social distancing guidelines, the celebration was held as a drive-through.

Clark College President Karin Edwards and Earl Frederick, cuisine management professor, prepareto greet students during the college’s first Juneteenth barbecue in June 2021.

Clark College President Karin Edwards and Earl Frederick, cuisine management professor, prepare to greet students during the college’s first Juneteenth barbecue on June 11, 2021. Photo by Clark College

More than 100 Clark students drove through the rainy parking lot to the music of classic R&B tunes and picked up lunches of barbecued meats and traditional Southern sides—all packaged in boxes printed with Black history information.

Despite the rainy weather, Frederick said, “the food was great.”

Much of it was prepared by the 11 students enrolled in Frederick’s barbecue class—a course three years in the making that reflects one of his long-standing passions.

Barbecue is widely recognized as a Black contribution to American culture and cuisine. Enslaved people who passed through the Caribbean adopted some of that region’s cooking techniques, such as cooking meat on a spit over a fire, and its ingredients, such as hot peppers. What we consider Southern cooking is something akin to global fusion.

“Anywhere there’s meat and there’s fire, there’s going to be barbecue,” Frederick said.

Even the Pacific Northwest has its own version of the tradition.

“There are so many different styles of barbecue, it’s something that’s up to interpretation,” Frederick said. “But I know the Cowlitz native people cooked salmon on planks, over an open fire … that’s traditional here.”

Each Juneteenth lunch was packed in a box printed with information on Black history.

Each Juneteenth lunch was packed in a box printed with information on Black history. Photo by Clark College

The students in Frederick’s barbecue course had completed their practical final exam the week before the event so they were well practiced by the Juneteenth celebration. They prepared smoked turkey, baked beans, collard greens and cornbread. Frederick cooked a Caribbean style paella and gumbo, nods to two different branches of the Black barbecue tradition. Donnie Vercher, who owns Daddy D’s Southern Style BBQ in Vancouver, Wash., donated barbecued pork to the event. About 20 pastry students baked hand pies to go in each boxed lunch, too.

“Next year, I want to make it more of a celebration,” Frederick said.

By then, he hopes the pandemic has eased enough to move the event from a parking lot to a grassy field where people can gather in person. He envisions more of the community joining in next year’s event. Frederick is a member of the board of directors for the Vancouver Farmer’s Market and plans to get local food growers involved in next year’s celebration. He also hopes to enlist organizations such as the local chapter of the NAACP.

This year’s realization of Frederick’s long-held plan to commemorate Juneteenth at Clark coincided with growing national recognition of the holiday’s importance. A law signed by President Joe Biden this year will make Juneteenth a federal holiday beginning in 2022.

“It’s cool that it’s being recognized, finally, by more people,” Frederick said.

You can help support Clark’s cuisine program—the only such program in the Southwest Washington and Portland Metro area. Click to email Joel B. Munson to learn about opportunities for preparing the next generation of culinary professionals.

Written by Lily Raff McCaulou, a writer based in Bend, Ore. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Rolling Stone and of course, Clark Partners magazine.

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