Chef Fred Daniels and his red velvet waffles.
Chef Fred Daniels and his red velvet waffles.

Freddy J Talks Soul Food

by / Jan. 21, 2015 12am EST

In the heart of Buffalo’s multicultural West Side is a cozy restaurant specializing in savory Southern cuisine. Freddy J’s Barbecue is one of Buffalo’s best kept secrets, providing soul food with a touch of elegance. 

The owner and head chef Fred Daniels has been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years. His strong accent and selection of spices as he prepares a jerk chicken entrée may lead one to believe that he is of Jamaican descent. In fact, Daniels was born in Liberia and relocated to Staten Island in his early teens to help with his uncle’s restaurant. Daniels’s family soon migrated to Buffalo where he gathered experience from a local legend, Charlie the Butcher.

The postage stamp-sized restaurant lends itself perfectly to Daniels’s intimate approach to hosting his guests. Every visitor to his restaurant is made welcome in his open  kitchen, and Daniels serve everyone as if they were his own family. While being served at his restaurant counter like a close cousin, I decided to ask Daniels a few questions that only a family member would know.

How did growing up in Liberia influence your cooking style?
In Liberia my family was very poor. We didn’t have any refrigeration system so we had to cook everything fresh. Today, I prefer to cook with fresh foods, not only because of the taste, but also because I’m used to doing it. Growing up, my family only had a woodburning stove, so I had to cook everything before the wood burned out. That’s where I get my ability to cook for multiple customers pretty fast. 

What was your favorite meal growing up?
My father was of Japanese descent so he grew a lot of rice. We ate rice with everything. It was treat to add chicken with it so one of my favorite meals was chicken and rice.

Are there any stereotypes or misconceptions about soul food?
Absolutely, one of the biggest stereotypes is that only people of color eat soul food.  I have all races of people come and visit my restaurant, so it’s a myth that only people of color eat soul food. Another stereotype, is that people think soul food is fattening or unhealthy. Take my green beans or collard greens for an example. I cook them with smoked turkey meat, which has very little fat, but the beans and collard greens themselves are actually very healthy for you. Also, use my red velvet waffles as another example. The mix that I use is a wheat base so it’s much more healthier than a normal red velvet mix that you would buy in a store.

What tips can you give a novice chef on making a good soul food dinner?
I would tell any chef to have patience when cooking soul food dishes. Almost all Southern cuisines require slow cooking, which enhances the flavor of the food, so the chef must have patience when cooking. 

If I were on death row, and you were given only 20 minutes to prepare my last meal, what would you make?
I would make you my jerk fish dinner. The fish is very light and it’s pan-fried in olive oil. I also have a specialty jerk sauce that goes on the fish and my rice and vegetables are both steamed. This is also the meal that I enjoy cooking the most. It’s almost to die for!

Freddy J’s BBQ
195 Grant St, Buffalo NY 14213

Mon: 10am-4pm
Tue: 12pm — 4pm 
Wed — Sat: 12pm — 6pm
Sun: 11am - 3pm