Isn’t it ironic that when we think of American cuisine, we rarely, if ever, think of Native American dishes? Indeed, can you even name one?
The good news is that Sean Sherman, also known as “The Sioux Chef,” is on a mission to change that and get Native American cuisine into mainstream dining.
In his teens, he decided to pursue a career as a chef, so he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Once he mastered various cuisines such as French and Japanese, a thought hit him: “Just all of a sudden, I realized that there was no Native foods. I just realized the other absence of Indigenous perspective anywhere in the culinary world, nothing that represented the land we were actually standing on,” he told PBS Newshour.
The absence of Indigenous cuisine isn’t just an issue of representation; it’s also been erased from within Native American communities. Although Sherman was born and raised on a reservation, he didn’t grow up eating traditional Native American foods. Instead, he remembers eating processed foods and government supplemental fare. Such was the lot of his community at that time.
To publish his first cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, which won the prestigious 2018 James Beard Award for best American cookbook, Sherman had to delve deep into researching food systems and seeking the knowledge of tribal elders, historians, and ethnobotanists.
Earlier this year, Sherman opened Owamni, his first permanent restaurant location in downtown Minneapolis in an area known to Native Americans as Spirit Island. The restaurant
prioritizes purchasing from Indigenous food producers locally and nationally and has removed colonial ingredients such as wheat flour, cane sugar and dairy. Sherman says "We are proud to present a decolonized dining experience."
Instead, Owamni serves ingredients such as wild rice, nixtamalized corn from Mexico, bison, lake fish, dandelion, blueberries, and corn ash.
The overarching goal behind all of Sherman’s initiatives is to bring Indigenous food to the forefront of American cuisine.
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