Chef Sherman has presented twice at Roots about indigenous food traditions and each time, his message and passion have inspired the audience to appreciate indigenous food traditions in a more informed and enlightened way. In our interview with Chef Sherman he discusses his Kickstarter campaign to help fund his new restaurant venture, The Sioux Chef, what empowerment means to him, and his work with Native youth.
I created The Sioux Chef in 2014 with the focus of bringing back a sense of regional indigenous foods. We are based in Minneapolis, so our foods represent heavily the flavors and and histories of the indigenous people of the Dakota and Minnesota Territories, which include tribes of the Dakota, Lakota, Ojibwe, Ho-Chunk, Winnebego, Mandan, Arikara, Hidatsa, Crow, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. In order to stay as authentic as possible, we’ve cut out European ingredients such as wheat flour, processed sugar, dairy, beef, pork, and chicken, and focus on using native heirloom vegetables from our region, wild foods and flavors, regional game and fish, along with utilizing simple cooking and food preservation techniques.
We do a lot of training and education on our work of identifying and utilizing Indigenous Foods Systems of North American and we love brining our work to tribal areas like the one I grew up in on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The foods that we offer reflect the natural flavors, histories and culture that was widely taken away from many native groups throughout North America and we love demonstrating to Native youth the way foods used to, the way they are today, and the exciting ways we can bring them into the future through knowledge, practice, and sharing. The challenging part of this work has been putting back together broken food systems that were purposefully dismantled by our own government in their push for more land and resource and the assimilation of the peoples they were stealing from.
I think the first step of getting involved is recognizing and paying respects to the cultures and people that have and still live in our regions. There are many different cultures and food systems throughout North American and all of them are important. It’s understanding how sustainable Native agriculture used to be and could be today, and the sustainable approach of wild food harvesting, hunting, and fishing that used to be a part of everyday life for 1000s of years prior to European occupation. The work we hope to do every day is to inspire other younger Native chefs to embrace their own past and heritage and help them bring that voice out through their own foods and artistry.
It has been very empowering to take the time to learn so much of the vast and varied cultures throughout North American and all of the pieces it takes to understand an Indigenous Food System and to be able to share and teach these learnings on a daily basis. Food is the center of everything, it’s who we are, and it’s our cultural identity. We love our work and hope it inspires and empowers other indigenous people throughout North America to want to learn more and make indigenous foods a part of their everyday life not only in their homes, but their communities as well.
I feel so lucky and humbled that I was able to speak and share food at the 2nd and 3rd Roots gatherings and it was amazing to meet all of the talented people that the event brought in. I personally really loved just connecting with people personally and sharing our journeys, thoughts, and creativity with each other.
We are planning first off to open our brick and mortar and we hope this will be a flagship example of what a modern all indigenous restaurant can be. We want to break free from petroleum dependency utilizing wood fire as the main source of cooking, solar power, outside cold air cooling systems, etc. Our main goal will remain on education and native food access and we hope our restaurant model will enable us to help bring a healthy native food model to many tribal regions and our ultimate goal is to open an indigenous culinary center that will teach people on all points of an indigenous food system including native agriculture, ethnobotany, indigenous permaculture, seed saving, harvesting, food preservation, hunting, fishing, cooking, craft making, history, and cultural awareness.
At this very moment, it’s the pods of wild milkweed. We harvested a ton of them at an indigenous food retreat we held recently in North Dakota on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation and they were perfect. We seared them hot and quickly with a bit of sunflower oil and they blistered and tasted like a cross between shishito peppers and okra.
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