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The Road to Tradition, Via the Palate



— October 4, 2019

The Road to Tradition, Via the Palate

  • Bringing Tradition, Health to Indigenous People.

Chef Sean Sherman—he and his business are known as the Sioux Chef—is the author of a cookbook and a restaurateur, but the sum of those parts is a fledgling movement to honor tradition and improve the health of Native Americans and indigenous people worldwide.

Greasy fry bread, perhaps loaded with beef, is ubiquitous in places like the Southwest. You won’t find it in Sherman’s book The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen (University of Minnesota), a James Beard Foundation award winner, or the restaurants or education centers Sherman is planning.

Instead, you’ll find foods common to indigenous people of the upper Midwest: venison, bison, rabbit, turkey, geese, lake fish.

“Even insect usage, because that was pretty common everywhere also,” Sherman says. “There are plenty of alternative proteins.”

Chef Sean Sherman is at the forefront of a movement to reclaim Native American food traditions—which means concentrating on foods eaten before European contact. Click To Tweet

The main focus of Sherman and his team of chefs, ethnobotanists, food preservationists and foragers, however, plants. Testifying to the great plant diversity that once influenced the diets of indigenous people are plants’ many uses—as medicine and for crafting,
for instance.

“We’re not out there as a health company,” Sherman says. “We’re having fun creating all these different flavors. We’re not trying to recreate the past as if it was 300 years ago. We’re just trying to absorb knowledge from our indigenous ancestors and cutting out colonial foods like dairy, wheat flour, cane sugar, beef, pork and chicken.”

Sherman, who is Oglala Lakota Sioux, is launching his efforts from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He is planning to open what he calls Indigenous Food Labs, featuring a non-profit restaurant, in the area and expand globally. That will be followed by the launch of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, a for-profit eater

The efforts will spotlight farming, cooking, and food preservation techniques, and the low-glycemic diet, with good fats because of the many nuts and seeds consumed, that Native people once enjoyed.

“They didn’t even have to worry about tooth decay because of the low-glycemic diet they were on, not to mention diabetes,” Sherman says.

Ultimately, he adds, his efforts are “bigger than just-food. We’re talking about farming, botany, ethnobotany, language, regional histories, and geographies. There is so much to relearn.” Visit

Pueblo Harvest Spotlights ‘Pre-Contact’ Menu

Pueblo Harvest, the restaurant in the Pueblo Cultural Center, owned by the 19 pueblos of New Mexico in central Albuquerque, offers gourmet Native food that pays homage to tradition but adds a modern touch with unusual pairings of ingredients.

A case in point is perhaps one of the most curious menu items—the Obsidian Burger, a black bean patty with black kale, black-garlic mayo and pickled poblano chiles on a charcoal-infused bun. It is one of many vegetarian options at Pueblo Harvest and is a nod to the key role of the precious volcanic glass in Indian culture, for weapons and tools, and in artistic and spiritual practices.


The Obsidian Burger


Founded in 1976, Pueblo Harvest dropped the word “café” from its name to highlight that it sheds light on the Indian experience and is integral to the Pueblo Cultural Center. And it does educate. Its menus are segmented with dishes from times of pre-and-post-European contact—all with gourmet flair.

Among pre-contact starters, for instance, is Bison Carpaccio—sumac-seared bison with pickled squash, pumpkin oil, and sea salt, while post-contact starter items include blue corn onion rings. Pre-contact entrees include an elk pot roast, pan-seared trout, duck, turkey, and bison, while beef and chicken dishes are reserved for the post-contact section.

You can enjoy these dishes surrounded by Pueblo art or dine outside with spectacular views of the Sandia mountains.

Pueblo Harvest hosts live music every weekend with an all-you-can-eat taco bar and gourmet pizza made in an outdoor horno oven. Visit

Great Homestyle Taste at Travel Center

Add a star to your road trip rating if you can do as locals do, especially when it comes to food. After asking for a place where I could try authentic homestyle Native American food, I was directed to the San Filipe Travel Center & Pueblo Restaurant, a place so nondescript you might pass it by even after stopping at the center for gas.

Inside the building, the esthetics are just as bland: a souvenir and smoke shop on one side, and on the other a restaurant that resembles an American diner. It’s inside the kitchen and on the plates of customers where the restaurant shines. Homestyle Native American cooking is what I was after, and the eatery did not disappoint.

Kitchen manager Guy Bien introduces me to the reason why: Line cook Carlos Latoma, 22, of the San Filipe Pueblo, who sees his job as a way to refine and honor the cooking traditions of his village. More than 80% of customers are Native, they tell me.

“There aren’t a lot of elders left, and this is teaching me how to make it the way it’s made in the village,” Latoma says after bringing me several plates and bowls of colorful foods.

Unlike another chili, I can see each ingredient in the bowl Latoma sets before me. The pinto beans, cheese, red chili, and ground beef are each distinct rather than an undistinguishable mashup. The Blue Corn Hash tastes like fresh grits or cream of wheat. And the Green Chile Squash, a mix of corn, squash, and broth, with added green chile, brings a spiciness to my mouth that’s just right. The San Filipe style is less spicy than that of other pueblos, Latoma says.

Each dish is hearty and delicious. The meal ends with a traditional San Filipe dessert: a slice of prune pie that melts in my mouth.

Coming from Santa Fe, the San Filipe Travel Center is on the east side of Hagen Road, just off exit 522 on Route 25, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. (Do not confuse the travel center with the Black Mesa Casino, just across the road.) Call 505-867-4706.

Wild Rice Pilaf with Wild Mushrooms, Roasted Chestnuts, and Dried Cranberries

Wild rice is a flavorful and remarkably satisfying food. The mushrooms add a dark, meaty flavor and texture, while the chestnuts are creamy (and high in protein). This meatless dish will appeal to omnivores and vegetarians alike. Cooked wild rice will keep several weeks in the refrigerator and for at least a year when frozen in a plastic freezer bag.

2 tbsp sunflower or walnut oil
1 lb assorted mushrooms, cleaned
1 tbsp chopped sage
1/2½ cup chopped wild onion or shallots
½1/2 cup Corn Stock or vegetable stock
2 cups cooked wild rice
1/2½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup roasted, peeled, chopped
1 tbsp maple syrup to taste
½1/2 to 1 tsp smoked salt, to taste

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.

*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 it on a baking sheet. Roast in a 350°F 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.

Serves 4 to 6

Corn Stock: Wagmíza Hanpí

Save the corncobs after you’ve enjoyed boiled or roasted corn on the cob or you’ve cut the kernels for use in a recipe. Put the corncobs into a pot and cover with water by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil and partially cover. Reduce the heat and simmer until the stock tastes “corny,” about 1 hour. Discard the cobs. Store the stock in a covered container in the refrigerator or freezer.


For more articles in our Native Trails Series, see below:
Native Trails
A Relay Through Time
Throwing Darts
Reclaiming A Narrative
The Pulse of Native Rhythms
Revival From the EARTH

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