America is the land of immigrants, and to prove it, the country is full of food from culinary traditions all over the world — Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Ethiopian, French, Indian, Korean, Turkish, El Salvadorian, the list goes on — but cuisine from the people who lived here first, Native Americans, is almost always missing from that array. But if you happen to live in the Minneapolis—St. Paul area, Sioux Chef restaurant, which features pre-Columbian inspired food, is opening, and it looks delicious
Sean Sherman, a professional chef who grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, already has a Sioux Chef catering business that specializes in Native American cuisine, but he's now hoping to open a restaurant sometime this winter in the Twin Cities area. Sherman plans to vary the menu by season and source most ingredients from local farms.
The restaurant would feature pre-colonization cuisine from the Sioux and Ojibwe tribes, such as wild rice flatbread, cedar-braised bison, smoked turkey wasna, seared walleye with sumac and maple sugar, and balsam-fir iced tea. And looks delicious, too. Is anyone else getting hungry, or is that just me?
There are a lot of reasons traditional Native American cuisine is hard to come by today. Over centuries of relocation and forced assimilation, many tribes lost huge aspects of culture, including traditional food. For many years, Native Americans forced onto reservations were dependent on the federal government for food, and were mostly provided only with staples like flour and lard. Even today, however, many reservations still don't have access to a quality supermarket, which creates problems not only for maintaining cultural aspects of food but also for basic nutrition, something many are working hard to change.
In the face of all of this, however, Sherman wanted to try to recreate some of the traditional foods. It's a task that was easier said than done. “I realized there wasn’t a lot of information out there in terms of how to process foods or what they really ate,” he said. “I spent a long time studying wild foods. I talked to people and got oral stories. A lot of it had to come from history books and other accounts of how things were.”
Now though, he thinks he's ready to start up a restaurant specializing in Sioux and Ojibwe cuisine, and hopes to have the Sioux Chef restaurant open by December.
If all goes as planned, Sherman would be one of the few chefs in the country running such a place. Chef Nephi Craig uses Apache and Navjo influences for the food at the Sunrise Park Resort Hotel in Arizona, for instance, and the Mitsitam Café features traditional food from indigenous peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere. But restaurants that specialize in traditional cuisine from any particular Native American nation are few and far between. In fact, a glance at the Zagat Guide for New York City, probably the most eclectic and diverse city for food in the whole country, reveals that Native American is not even a category of cuisine on their site.
So, if you happen to be in the Twin Cities area anytime soon, check it out. I'm sure the food is to die for.
Images: Sean Sherman (5)