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La Crosse Chef Celebrates Past, Present With Juneteenth Dinner At James Beard House

Adrian Lipscombe Draws On Texas Roots, Wisconsin Experience To Share Story Of Emancipation, African American Culture

Adrain Lipscombe at Uptowne Cafe & Bakery in La Crosse
Chef Adrian Lipscombe at her restaurant, Uptowne Cafe & Bakery in La Crosse in 2019. Hope Kirwan/WPR

A restaurant owner in Wisconsin is bringing together chefs from across the United States to celebrate African American food and culture.

Adrian Lipscombe, chef and owner of Uptowne Cafe & Bakery in La Crosse, was tapped by the James Beard House in New York City to organize a dinner Tuesday for Juneteenth. Lipscombe said the idea came from her previous work researching the history of food and black culture in Austin, Texas.

“The conversation started around food, but it started diving deeper into history,” Lipscombe said. “James Beard House had a lot of interest in telling more stories and doing more storytelling and I had this idea of looking at the history of food and especially black influence into food and the idea just kind of came up.”

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Juneteenth, celebrated Wednesday, June 19, marks the day slaves in Texas were finally freed after the Civil War. Lipscombe said the holiday is celebrated nationwide, but it’s especially popular in her home state of Texas.

“Even now, I take the day off usually for Junteenth,” Lipscombe said. “It’s about having picnics and meeting up with family, meeting up with your community and just celebrating that day.”

Several of the chefs who collaborated on the menu are also from Southern states like Mississippi. Lipscombe said living in Wisconsin has also had an influence on her approach to the meal.

“(In) the Coulee Region area, there’s a lot of organic products. It’s a lot of working with farmers, and so we definitely tap into talking to our farmers about what we serve here at (Uptowne Cafe), but also what I’m doing and serving over there,” Lipscombe said. “It’s also looking at just the influence of how food is made and how it’s grown and then how we ingest it and how we tell that story about that food. So I think Wisconsin plays a huge role.”

Lipscombe said many of the ingredients featured in the dinner symbolize the history of slavery and the growth of black culture in the U.S.

“The dessert I’m making has a lot to do with talking about the Transatlantic moving of slavery. So we have chocolate from Africa,” Lipscombe said. “I’m working in the Carolinas, where the majority of slaves were brought in from that coastline, bringing in Carolina gold rice. I think each one of these dishes that are going to be served, which is six courses, all have their own history and their own story to tell.”

Lipscombe said she hopes the event will draw attention to the need to celebrate the African American community’s past and present.

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