Photos: The grill masters of the Chosen Few Picnic | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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Photos: The grill masters of the Chosen Few Picnic

More music festivals should let fans cook for each other.

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D'Angelo DaReef usually hosts a dozen friends and family from South Carolina for Chosen Few weekend, but his food isn't just for them. - ZAKKIYYAH NAJEEBAH
  • Zakkiyyah Najeebah
  • D'Angelo DaReef usually hosts a dozen friends and family from South Carolina for Chosen Few weekend, but his food isn't just for them.

The Chosen Few Picnic is the Saturday nearest July 4, and its single day provides Chicagoans with a blueprint for the perfect summer: all you need is good music, friends and family, and lots of barbecue. House DJ collective the Chosen Few launched the picnic in 1990 as part of the Hatchett family barbecue behind the Museum of Science and Industry—DJs Andre and Tony Hatchett are original members of the Chosen Few. The picnic settled in Jackson Park in 2008, and these days it's one of the biggest Black festivals in the city, drawing crowds of nearly 50,000 people—dozens if not hundreds of whom spend the day cooking, providing the event with much of its backyard-party charm.

On Saturday, July 6, I went to the 29th Chosen Few Picnic with photographer Zakkiyyah Najeebah to learn more about the experience of making food at the picnic. Mack Mason, for example, helped run four grills on behalf of the Public League, a bar and restaurant in suburban Harvey whose owner likes to offer Chosen Few fans free food. Mason and his crew came prepared to feed about 150 people, with options for every meal of the day. He made omelets when he arrived just after 9 AM, then moved on to jerk chicken, turkey links, and burgers.

Other cooks were just as generous, and came with large groups of people ready to eat their food. Bryson Lenon and Neishe Russell, who became friends at Northern Illinois University in the early 2000s, prepared a variety of meats for a loose collection of high school and college pals as well as their family members. They'd reportedly made quite a feast last year, including cedar-plank salmon and lobster tail, and as we left Lenon, he was prepping a tomahawk rib-eye steak with his own dry rub.

Bryson Lenon applies dry rub to a tomahawk ribeye steak. - ZAKKIYYAH NAJEEBAH
  • Zakkiyyah Najeebah
  • Bryson Lenon applies dry rub to a tomahawk ribeye steak.

The smell of grilling meat filled the air throughout the park, which made Sean Griffin's cooking even more distinctive. He stir-fried a mess of vegetables—peppers, squash, zucchini, portobello mushrooms, white onion—in a wok with a little oil and salt. This was Griffin's second time at the picnic, and most of the cooks we spoke with were repeaters. One grill master, who preferred to go by his nickname, Roc, had been part of an old house crew called Gucci Productions and started attending the picnic in the early 90s. Ken Taylor, who carted his friend's barrel grill into the park on a homemade dolly, says he's been to the picnic 20 times.

Fred Anderson was in charge of the grill for Nu Bang Clan, a DJ and production collective whose members also include Alan King of the Chosen Few. Their crew's name was emblazoned on a large white tent, which protected several tables of food. Anderson spent two days preparing everything for the picnic.

D'Angelo DaReef (blue apron) and his wife, Vanessa (white shorts), with their friends and family - ZAKKIYYAH NAJEEBAH
  • Zakkiyyah Najeebah
  • D'Angelo DaReef (blue apron) and his wife, Vanessa (white shorts), with their friends and family

D'Angelo DaReef normally spends two days prepping too, but this year he got everything done in one. He and his wife, Vanessa, treat Chosen Few weekend as a staycation, and open their house to a dozen friends and family who come up from South Carolina. D'Angelo loves cooking, and he and Vanessa are eager to share his pulled pork, ribs, chicken, sausages, and pasta salad—and not just with the folks they’ve invited.

"That's the whole purpose of having all this food—we know we gonna feed someone else," Vanessa says. "You can come here broke and hungry, and leave here happy and full."  v

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