To Celebrate Black Life and Leisure, a Picnic in Central Park

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It’s early afternoon on a heat Saturday in June, and Sheep Meadow in Manhattan’s Central Park is awash with folks enjoyable on blankets and garden chairs, laughing and chatting as they sunbathe or catch up over snacks. “I honestly had forgotten how busy it can get in the park,” says Amber Mayfield, 29 — the founding father of the New York occasion company To Be Hosted, and of While Entertaining, {a magazine} devoted to showcasing the skills of Black foodies — as she surveys the scene, to which she’s going to quickly add.

Beneath the branches of a giant tree close to the western fringe of the park, Mayfield has arrange for a potluck-style picnic in honor of Juneteenth. On the visitor checklist are her fiancé, Jordan Hewett, who’s a highschool math instructor, and numerous associates and meals professionals. On a low-slung wood desk Mayfield introduced alongside, she’s laid out the cookbooks “Watermelon and Red Birds” (2022) by Nicole A. Taylor and Bryant Terry’s “Black Food” (2021), from which she took inspiration for the occasion. These sit alongside a pitcher of home made strawberry soda and a yellow peony- and bearded iris-studded centerpiece by Emily Scott of the Harlem-based Floriconvento Flowers. When it got here to the meals, Mayfield gave her visitors a directive: to convey one thing that represented freedom, custom or household to them.

Ultimately, the unfold mirrored a wide selection of tastes and cultures, and the attendees blended and matched, passing serving platters amongst themselves. The chef Leigh-Ann Martin introduced a callaloo quiche with a jar of roasted Scotch bonnet aioli, a sauce paying homage to a ghost and scorpion pepper sauce generally served in Trinidad and Tobago, the place she grew up, and the chef and cooking teacher Sicily Sierra Johnson made pickled vegetable and pastrami sandwiches that made her consider the generations of ladies in her household who created one of the best dishes utilizing solely what they’d round them. “It’s a small and simple way that I can honor what’s behind me and what’s in front of me,” she mentioned. The mannequin Fatou Thiam introduced fataya, or Senegalese fish hand pies, that she’d made together with her mom the day earlier than. She defined that they have been just like Jamaican beef patties, or pastelitos. “Patties, hand pies — these pastries connect all of us,” she mentioned.

Certainly, sharing or listening to the again tales of and causes behind bringing every dish, which the visitors did whereas sitting on pillows sans footwear, was an vital a part of the gathering, one which added to the already intimate ambiance. Tiffany-Anne Parkes, a Jamaican American pastry chef and the founding father of the digital bakeshop Pienanny, who for dessert had ready a plantain cremeux with Biscoff and Jamaican espresso crust — a play on banana pudding — mentioned, “Plantain allows us to play across the diaspora, and it’s a connecting piece.” Then, to the diners’ delight, she produced a piping bag of home made chocolate sauce and added the phrases “BLACK LEISURE” throughout the highest of the pudding in all caps. “Play, choices and leisure are essential to Black freedom,” she mentioned.

Because the afternoon continued, the park pulsed with different teams coming and going and swirling across the picnic, however by no means breaking the bubble of closeness that held Mayfield and her visitors. “I feel like we’ve created this little oasis,” mentioned Mayfield, smiling as she seemed across the desk. In a approach, she does this form of factor on a regular basis. She began her enterprise, which has labored with such purchasers as Netflix and Equinox, within the hopes of making memorable dinner events highlighting the work of Black creatives, and Whereas Entertaining is an extension of that philosophy that gives a platform for cooks to share the methods during which they’ve fostered or skilled heat and hospitality in their very own lives: In its pages, she runs each recipes and private essays. Nonetheless, she felt that the picnic, which she deliberate for neither of her enterprise ventures however quite to unwind and spend time with associates, was one thing further particular. “We’re always moving and hustling,” Mayfield mentioned. “To be able to sit and chill feels like pressing a reset button.” It was additionally a super technique to honor a day that could be a reminder of Black tradition and resilience. Right here, Mayfield shares her suggestions for throwing a significant picnic of your personal.

Set an Intention

Mayfield’s request that visitors convey dishes honoring Juneteenth added depth to the gathering. “It was really beautiful to see the way everybody interpreted that assignment,” she says. It additionally facilitated dialog, even amongst those that didn’t already know one another.

Fill Within the Gaps

Mayfield requested visitors to R.S.V.P. with the dishes they deliberate to convey in order that she may get a way of the menu (she additionally wasn’t afraid to supply suggestions about what would or wouldn’t work when served roughly at room temperature) and what was unaccounted for. Given what she gleaned, and maintaining in thoughts the temperature and the season, she introduced a leafy salad, contemporary fruit, poundcake skewers and home made strawberry soda, which she portioned into particular person swing-top glass bottles with striped straws.

Pay Consideration to the Particulars

Even small touches could make a giant distinction, says Mayfield. The books additionally inspired dialogue, whereas the pillows invited visitors to take off their footwear and get snug. Mayfield additionally used little prospers to tug the desk design collectively. “I love the green-and-white striped napkins,” she says. “You can do things very simply and then just have two pops of color and it all feels more extravagant.”

Suppose Past the Blanket

Why not add some “razzle-dazzle?” says Mayfield, who recommends outlining your entertaining area with space rugs and ground pillows. It will make the gathering extra luxurious (and cozy) than only a single-layer picnic blanket would. The concept is to “make it feel like it’s not your regular Saturday,” she says. Company will “remember it more and be more present, too.”

Faucet Into Nostalgia

The picnic took on a enjoyable vibe when, after consuming, visitors performed with oversize enjoying playing cards and wood dominoes, which Mayfield knew would remind folks of the cookouts they’d attended as kids. She additionally needed to go these traditions on to the younger folks in attendance (Johnson introduced her daughters, Marlee and Madison). “They’re part of how we unwind and just relax alongside the music and food,” she says. “It just felt like something that had to be there.”

Music Ought to Add, Not Overpower

Taking part in within the background due to a Bluetooth speaker positioned beneath the desk have been theme-appropriate songs like Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” “I like to find a place that’s in the center of the action to put the music, but not in a way that keeps people from talking to each other,” Mayfield says. “You can turn it up a little, and because it’s under the table, it doesn’t feel like it’s in your space. It’s more like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m softly hearing “Lovely Day.”’” You’ll be able to take heed to Mayfield’s full playlist here.

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