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Juneteenth celebration highlights Black chefs and restaurants nationwide

Chefs offer Juneteenth-inspired menus
The Dish: Black Restaurant Week highlights thousands of chefs, restaurants 05:19

Food is a significant part of the Juneteenth celebration, a federal holiday that commemorates the day when the last enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. 

Across the country, over 3,000 Black chefs and restaurants have participated in Black Restaurant Week, which coincides with Juneteenth, where many are offering Juneteenth-inspired menus.

Warren Luckett, founder of Black Restaurant Week, started the event eight years ago in Texas, where the Juneteenth holiday originates. 

"We want folks from all walks of life to be able to name their favorite Black-owned restaurant, the same way they can name their favorite sushi restaurant or favorite Italian restaurant in town," said Luckett.

Chef Hollis Barclay is confident she will be one of those favorites once diners taste her food. Located under the subway tracks in Brooklyn, Barclay's restaurant, Bleu Fin Bar and Grill, brings a taste of the Caribbean to Brooklyn. Barclay, known for her colorful drinks and dishes, wears vibrant clothing while preparing her homemade Caribbean and Guyanese cuisine.

"When you eat my food, you're transporting the islands of the Caribbean," said Barclay.

Barclay is proud to be part of New York City's Black Restaurant Week. The dishes she prepared for "The Dish" are from her special Juneteenth-inspired menu, which includes oxtail egg rolls and lobster mac and cheese. 

As a Black woman from the American Caribbean, Barclay said feels a connection to Juneteenth. 

"We also had slavery," she said. "So there is a connection between the Caribbean Americans and Black Americans. We have the same legacy as the people."

Barclay grew up in Guyana in a household with over a dozen family members, where cooking was essential. She learned her culinary skills from her family, including her aunts, whom she describes as world-class cooks. 

"My family members, yes. My aunts, excellent cooks, excellent. Excellent. World class cooks," said Barclay.

Now, Barclay brings her family's cooking traditions to Bleu Fin Bar and Grill. Everyone working in her kitchen is Guyanese and trained by her to make traditional dishes like Guyanese-style fried rice.

But Barclay's path was not linear. She followed her mother to the U.S. when she was 19, and after earning a college degree in fashion, she worked various jobs. 

"The entrepreneurial spirit kept calling me," said Barclay.

Eventually, she opened one of the only Black-owned spas in Brooklyn. Nearly a decade later, her daughter suggested she open a restaurant, which she did just before the coronavirus pandemic hit. They relied on take-out to survive. Despite the challenges that came with the pandemic, Bleu Fin survived. 

Now, Barclay is in talks to open another location at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, and, with continued community support, she believes they can thrive.

"I'm very optimistic about the future of my restaurant," she said.

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