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THE INSIDER

the things you knew that you apply to your cooking today? I was very fortunate to grow up in a home where my mother made dinner, mostly from scratch, and every evening we sat down to eat at the dinner table as a family. My mother had her repertoire of family recipes that she made regularly and loved to experiment in her baking. I was always in the kitchen, watching, learning, and helping her. My father is also a great cook; he’s the master of creating soup from everything in the fridge that needs to be used up, so nothing ever went to waste in our house! My mother is also an avid gardener (as was my grandmother before she passed), so watching our food grow as a part of my upbringing. When I entered the world of professional cooking, I realized that my parents had already given me a lot of the culinary training I needed to succeed. I came to the professional kitchen already having the necessary chef skills like knifework, baking, multi-tasking/timing, cleanliness/organization, and food waste management.

standards - classic compositions that are a part of a repertoire - that musicians use as a foundation on which to improvise. I applied that improvisational jazz concept to food by choosing familiar classic dishes as a base and riffing on those dishes by adding different flavors and ingredients to create something fresh and new. It was an excellent opportunity to introduce people to indigenous ingredients and flavors in an approachable way. I look at each meal or menu as a way to communicate with people, to share the things I’m passionate about. So, in many ways, the menus at Duet spoke my journey up to that point. The Acadian food my father made when I was growing up, the southwestern flavors that permeated my youth, the Indigenous Mexican flavors I learned from Oaxacan cooks I worked with over the years, the Cajun, Creole, and soul food I fell in love with in New Orleans, and the Indigenous ingredients and dishes that express my Cherokee identity; they are a patchwork of flavors and ideas that tell my story on a plate.

How do you incorporate ancestral knowledge through modern techniques in your cooking? Why is this important? Native people, when we are mentioned, are often referred to in the past tense as historical figures without a place in the modern world. This lack of representation has perpetuated damaging myths and stereotypes that directly affect policy, discrimination, and Native communities’ economic disparities. By combining our ancestral ingredients and techniques with modern recipes and dishes in new creative ways, we challenge that negative “past-tense” perspective and replace it with a positive, accurate, forward-thinking narrative that brings Native culture into a contemporary context. Food is a language that all people understand and relate to, so it’s the perfect medium to reach a greater audience and increase Native visibility. Through our resiliency, we carry our ancestral ways with us into the future; we build on our ancestors’ teachings and continue to innovate as a vibrant and creative part of the modern culinary world.

How do you revitalize healthy Indigenous cuisine to promote healing and wellness? Why is this important? Indigenous cuisine is inherently healthy. Our ancestors didn’t have packaged or processed foods; they had whole ingredients–both foraged and cultivated from ancestral seeds– such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, and game, which were never subjected to genetic manipulation has stripped their commercially available counterparts of their nutrients. They also prepared them minimally, which kept all of the vital nutrients in those foods intact. As a recipe takes its ingredients further away from their raw form, the nutritional value diminishes, along with the positive healing effects it will have on our bodies. So the goal is to replace the packaged, processed, and genetically manipulated ingredients we have come to rely on with nutrient-packed indigenous ingredients, preferably from tribal sources, so that our bodies can benefit from the foods we eat, strengthen, and heal over time.

Your cooking at Duet Restaurant was memorable for many guests during your tenure; how were you able to offer such a vast array of cuisines such as Native American, Acadian, indigenous Mexican, and New Orleanian? I was fortunate that the Duet owners, Tuck and Kate Curren, gave me a lot of space and freedom to explore all of my culinary influences. They approached me about five months before the restaurant opening to create the menu, and their vision for the menu was modern American cuisine with bright, vibrant, dynamic flavors. Being that Duet is a restaurant and jazz club, I used jazz as an inspiration for the menu. Jazz music often begins with jazz

What are some of the creativity, cooking techniques, and cultural food preparations you know that you apply to your cooking today? From an early age, my father taught me to build a proper fire. Our family vacations were always camping trips, with “real” camping in tents, where we hiked all day and cooked our meals over the coals of our campfire. That skill came in handy in my career when I became the Sous Chef and then Head Chef of a restaurant called Lucky’s, where we prepared food over a wood-fire grill. I was in my element, guiding that fire through each busy day of service. Now in my work as a caterer of Indigenous foods, I continue to build on my relationship with that fire to prepare food

the way my ancestors did. I also continue to be inspired by the nixtamalization technique for preparing corn. The scientific knowledge our ancestors possessed, to take elements of the earth–the wood ash, water, and corn–and combine them in a way that unlocks life-giving nutrients and has such a wide variety of culinary applications, is awe-inspiring. And is there anything more comforting than a warm bowl of hominy stew cooked over a fire? We talked about incorporating regional Indigenous cuisine and cultural food prep earlier; how do you teach that to others? Why is that vital? How does this showcase your Native heritage to your clients? When it comes to most people’s knowledge of Indigenous cuisine, I am often starting at square one, even in Native communities. Frybread and Indian tacos are usually the extent of peoples’ understanding of Native American food! As a direct result of colonization, a lot of Native families were removed from their traditional foodways, so the ingredients and dishes I prepare can be either unfamiliar or thought of as strictly ceremonial instead of being incorporated into daily meals. It goes without saying that for non-Native people, it is an altogether new concept that Indigenous people have such a rich and diverse spectrum of culinary traditions. When I teach cooking

“Indigenous cuisine is inherently healthy.” classes or give talks about food sovereignty, I love to present indigenous foods with an element of storytelling that ties the ingredients to my people’s history and origins to provide the food with that emotional connection. Once people experience the emotional memory of a story or learn about an Indigenous food source that they can form a connection with, I can show them how to work those ingredients into modern everyday life, even in small ways, so that they can begin to re-establish a relationship to the land through food and memory. What does the future look like for you and your business? The limitations imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic have certainly put a damper on our usual gatherings and events. Still, it has also expanded my horizons to the world of virtual demos and food discussions, which has allowed me to make connections across a much wider distance than before. In keeping with the spirit of creativity and resilience, I am still finding ways to share Indigenous foods locally in a safe, socially-distanced way. Catch updates and find more information at burningcedar.com.

NATIVE MAX MAGAZINE | 25

Profile for Native Max Magazine

Native Max Magazine - November/December 2020  

Welcome to the Native American Heritage Issue, featuring Muscogee Creek, Colville, Salish-Kootenai, and Cherokee tattoo artist and actress N...

Native Max Magazine - November/December 2020  

Welcome to the Native American Heritage Issue, featuring Muscogee Creek, Colville, Salish-Kootenai, and Cherokee tattoo artist and actress N...

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