How does someone rediscover his own culinary heritage and launch a rebirth of his native cuisine? Here’s how Sean Sherman did it: growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Sherman began working in restaurants when he was 13, eventually learning classic French and other European techniques. As he continued to work in restaurants, he became increasingly interested in researching the historic cuisine of his tribe, the Oglala Lakota people. “I read a lot of history books, went outside a lot and ate wild foods,” he says. He began to develop the foundations of a codified cuisine that would represent the flavors, histories and culture of indigenous peoples.
Sherman’s menus deliver delicious, authentic tastes, with a spotlight on ingredients like bison, berries, wild rice, corn and squash. They leave out ingredients that were not part of a precontact diet, so they are made without dairy, wheat flour, processed sugar or soy.
Meet The Sioux Chef
In 2014, Sherman launched The Sioux Chef, a catering company and educational outreach effort. Sherman’s partner, Dana Thompson, says: “Catering gave us a way to reach a lot of different types of people and introduce them to this delicious food. We were able to tell the story of sourcing and serving indigenous foods to reclaim these foods as a legitimate culinary tradition.”
As the catering company was ramping up, Little Earth of United Tribes offered grant money to launch Tatanka (the Lakota word for bison), a food truck with a menu including items like Wild Rice Bowls and Indigenous Tacos, made with corn cake as shells and served with a choice of filling: smoked sage-braised turkey, cedar-braised bison or “three sisters” (squash, beans and hominy). After a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, a Minneapolis-based brick-and-mortar facility, Sioux Chef: An Indigenous Kitchen, is in the works.
Why it’s popular
With many diners focused on eating more local and sustainable foods, and with the continued staying power of the Paleo diet, indigenous cuisine has received a larger spotlight. The cuisine offers a more authentic eating experience and meets consumers’ demand for increased food transparency.
“We harvest wild foods and local ingredients when they’re in season, and we serve them fresh or carefully preserve them,” Sherman says. “Our people all used to have this culinary knowledge, but that knowledge was broken, so now we’re rebuilding our own indigenous food system.”
Recipes from The Sioux Chef
Mixed Berry Wojapi (thick berry sauce)
Duck and Wild Rice Pemmican (high-energy food made of lean, dried meat crushed into powder and mixed with hot, rendered fat)
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