Cedar-braised bison with wojape berry sauce, with a seared hominy and flint corn cake with dried squash, and fiddlehead ferns.
Let’s just leap into the deep end of the pool shall we, friends? Let’s talk about genocide and salad. I know I know—awkward, flippant, inappropriate? But there’s no good way to have the conversation about why it’s so easy to find French, German, or Italian food in America, and so hard to find Lakota, Algonquin, or Ojibwe food. Of course, indigenous folk were farming, hunting, and eating here for thousands of years before Minnesota, or any other state, became a state. Yet the food is not to be found in modern restaurants because so many of the local food traditions and ingredient supply-chains were scrubbed away by war and different efforts of cultural genocide. This is why we live in a country where it’s far, far easier to find a good salad Nicoise than it is to find a salad made with wild sorrel, young sunflower leaves and hopniss (a local tuber that tastes not unlike a potato.) And yes, sunflower leaves are edible—who knew?
Why talk about genocide and salad now, of all times? Because today is the day we can do something to start nudging things in another direction, of getting Lakota food into a restaurant. Sean Sherman has launched The Sioux Chef Kickstarter to fund a Minneapolis indigenous foods restaurant—the first fully indigenous restaurant experience in the entire nation!
Now, Sean Sherman is a very Minneapolis chef: He’s Oglala Lakota, was born on the Pine Ridge reservation, and made his name cooking in Minneapolis restaurants, including La Bodega, Three Muses, French Meadow, and Common Roots. Most food people around here today know Sherman because he helped the Little Earth Community of United Tribes develop the Tatanka Truck, which has been serving the best native foods available here to date. Now he wants to take everything he’s been doing to the next level with The Sioux Chef, creating a local restaurant that sources native foods like ancient breeds of corn (the Dakota were growing corn in the Dakotas for 2,000 years, says Sherman, and the seeds are still around), native fish, every part of the sunflower, and much more. The plan is to fund a casual, everyday-priced native-foods restaurant that serves lunch and dinner family style. Obviously there are no native-foods restaurants I can point to to say, ‘it’ll be like this, or it’ll be like that,’ but it sounds like it will be a bit like a meat-and-three. You’ll order an entrée from a few options which will change seasonally, dishes like cedar-braised bison, smoked duck, or whitefish stew, and then you’ll add a few side dishes, such as native corn breads, hopniss, wild rice, and wild green salads. There will also be a space in the restaurant for a chef’s table for more elaborate fine-dining dinners using indigenous foods.
Do you want America’s first native foods restaurant to be in Minneapolis? Do you want the conversation about genocide and salad to leap out of this awkwardness on a blog and live in the world? Do you want to fund a model where native farmers, native fisherpeople, and native foragers have a market? Do you want to be able to go to have a meal like what was eaten here 200 years ago? Do you even, as an avowed white-tablecloth Modernist Euro-Fusion chef, merely want to put some seed-money into a system that is sure to release new culinary ingredients into the world? If you’ve answered any of those questions in the affirmative today, you have the rarest chance in food—you have the chance to help America’s first indigenous foods restaurant get into the world.