Read the Full story about this remarkable chef HERE
Then you also have your work with the NATIFS (North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems), the non-profit you founded along with Dana Thompson.
NATIFS is the big vision. It helps me travel around and meet more people, make connections and really showcase that this work of re-establishing Native foodways is doable everywhere. We’re creating a support system to make that happen and figuring out ways we grow with that because the vision is to replicate Indigenous food lab, NATIFS’s training and development and support kitchen.
So the idea is for NATIFS to create a model that can then be reproduced elsewhere?
Yes we’re almost finished with the first model here in Minneapolis, which has a Native market space with a counter where people can order food, a digital classroom, and an Indigenous focused education curriculum. All the equipment is coming in and everything’s getting plugged in and the construction is wrapping up. So, as we expand, this food lab moves around and has these capabilities. I’m really excited about the possibility of becoming a large support network all over the place and on top of that a distribution network to move Indigenous foods around and help curate more and more Indigenous food production.
And this all ties into the ethos at your Indigenous restaurant Owamni in Minneapolis, where people have praised you for doing something radically different.
We’re in an era right now, and I travel a lot and see this, where I can almost write the menu at any given restaurant, because it’s always the same. At Owamni we’re just showcasing what Indigenous food is and what the true foods of North America are, and prioritising purchasing from Indigenous producers locally and nationally first. We rely on a lot of Native farms nearby and we get a lot of amazing products, all sorts of different colours of corn and fresh greens and wild rice. Half the menu is plant based because we cut out all colonial ingredients, so there’s no dairy, no flour, no cane sugar, typically no beef or chicken and instead we showcase a lot of game and birds and freshwater fish.
We use a lot of wild greens and conifers; there’s a lot of wild cedar and spruce and tamarack that get added into dishes alongside wild herbs like bergamots and hyssops. Sometimes we make dishes that are particular to a region like the Pacific Northwest or Northeast, but mostly our focus is on the warm flavours of where we live and making the plates taste like where you are. Cooking something from the Midwest and the Great Lakes region we have wild rice, we have walleye, we have blueberries, we have rosehips. And then we tie in some of the Native names to things, so you see Native words on the menu and Native people cooking and serving and Native music playing, which is a really unique experience for people.
And what has the reaction been since you opened? Do you feel like there is growing interest in Indigenous ingredients and cooking?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive. We’re holding up a really high standard and it’s showing. Getting a James Beard Award for being the best new American restaurant was huge because those typically go to fancy restaurants where people are really shooting for Michelin stars and we’re just not that. We’re serving very healthy, simple, beautiful, clean food.
So, Thanksgiving is approaching, a holiday that many of us were taught an entirely false narrative around, and I know it’s an occasion that you’re keen to reframe.
It’s a national holiday and it gives us a moment to be together. It doesn’t have to be about this weird mythological colonial history; it can just be about really beautiful food. I like to spend it with a mix of getting food to people who need it and enjoying time cooking and being with my family. I enjoy making fun Thanksgiving dinners that are really seasonal. Whether people realise it or not, their Thanksgiving staples are all Indigenous foods: you have cranberries, squash, pumpkins, turkeys, all foods from the Americas that date back. I like to make the holiday about focusing on that; it’s a very good time to share.
Wild Rice Pilaf with Wild Mushrooms, Roasted Chestnuts, and Dried Cranberries
Psíŋ na Čȟaŋnákpa na Úma Cȟeúŋpapi na Watȟókeča T’áǧa
Wild rice is a flavourful and remarkably satisfying food. The mushrooms add a dark, meaty flavour and texture, while the chestnuts are creamy (and high in protein). This meatless dish will appeal to omnivore and vegetarian alike. Cooked wild rice will keep several weeks in the refrigerator and for at least a year when frozen in a plastic freezer bag.
Serves 4 to 6.
2 tablespoons sunflower or walnut oil
450g assorted mushrooms, cleaned
1 tablespoon chopped sage
64g chopped wild onion or shallots
64g corn stock or vegetable stock
400g cooked wild rice
64g dried cranberries
128g roasted, peeled, chopped chestnuts
1 tablespoon maple syrup to taste
½ to 1 teaspoon smoked salt to taste
To roast and peel chestnuts, use the sharp point of a small knife to score an X on the flat side of the chestnut and place on a baking sheet. Roast in a 180°C oven until the skins begin to peel back. The length of roasting time will depend on the freshness and size of the chestnuts and range from about 10 to 25 minutes. Remove, and when cool enough to handle, peel.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the mushrooms, sage, and onion. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are nicely browned and the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the stock, wild rice, and cranberries and cook until the liquid is nearly evaporated. Stir in the roasted chestnuts. Season with maple syrup and smoked salt to taste.
Recipe from The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley. Published by the University of Minnesota Press, 2017. Copyright 2017 Ghost Dancer, LLC. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Watch Sean create the recipe on our Instagram.
Interview by Fiorella Valdesolo.
Photographs by Nate Ryan.
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