Indigenous chefs get spotlight at food fest
BEN ABRAMS, HOST: As people look for solutions to lessen the effects of climate change, some chefs are advocating for a simpler way of eating. KWGS’ Elizabeth Caldwell reports Indigenous cooking is about using the food that’s around us.
ELIZABETH CALDWELL: At B’nai Emunah synagogue, chef Nico Albert Williams is placing appetizers on small plates made out of pressed palm leaves. She likes these plates, she says, because if you threw one out of the window of your car, it would quickly biodegrade.
NICO ALBERT WILLIAMS: Because it’s all, there’s nothing added to it, it’s just a leaf.
EC: Albert Williams has made hundreds of appetizers for this evening, which is meant to get people thinking about climate change, culture, and food. Albert Williams, who is Cherokee, has planned an Indigenous menu. She often forages for ingredients, but don’t ask her where.
AW: Well, that’s my top secret, a forager never reveals their spots, right?
EC: After everyone in the audience has had a bite to eat and is settled into seats, Albert Williams takes the stage to explain why she cooks Indigenous foods like wild rice and tepary beans. She didn’t grow up eating traditionally Native foods, she says, but as she gained more experience as a chef, she started to realize a few things.
AW: We, as a society, are sick. And we’ve done that through the things that we’ve done to our food system in the name of, you know, commercialism and overproduction of things.
EC: Sustainability is at the heart of Indigenous cooking. Sean Sherman grew up on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, eating government canned fruits and vegetables. He spent years training as a chef, cooking European style, before he opened the restaurant Owamni in Minneapolis.
SEAN SHERMAN: For me, with the creativity, our philosophy was just removing colonial ingredients because we wanted to showcase what are true foods of North America. So we took away colonial ingredients, removing dairy, wheat, flour, cane sugar, beef, pork, chicken. Really focusing on the bounty we have around us and looking at the Indigenous wisdom around the food systems, you know.
EC: Sherman says restaurants like his are unfortunately rare but there are a lot of Native chefs coming up now, and that’s a good thing, because there’s a real need for creators who are in touch with the environment.
SS: And we just have a lot of work to do because we're not very smart as humans yet. We’re going through water crisis, we’re going through climate change. There’s gonna be a lot of challenges, especially for our next generations.
EC: Sherman offers a few solutions. He says, for one thing, we should use space better. Lawns? They shouldn’t really exist. Abandoned urban lots? Those should be filled with sustainable crops. But the first step, he says, is just getting outside and appreciating what nature has to offer.
SS: And just looking around us, you know, so thinking about the world that we have, creating a relationship with the plants, with the trees, naming them, finding the indigenous names for those plants and those trees.
EC: For Sherman, seeing the world differently means caring for it and not just seeing opportunities to exploit it. For KWGS News, I’m Elizabeth Caldwell.