You may have tasted Native squash, but have you ever enjoyed staghorn sumac or the tart/sweet delicious taste of chokecherries prepared by a professional chef at your favorite restaurant?
Nearly 100 guests of the American Indian College Fund braved the cold weather and snow the evening of February 7 to attend the Twin Cities EATSS (Epicurean Award to Support Scholars) event to do just that! The event highlighted the nutritious and delicious benefits of traditional Native American foods while also benefiting the American Indian College Fund, which provides access to higher education and more for Native students.
The event was promoted by Native American chefs Sean Sherman of The Sioux Chef in Minneapolis and hosted by Ben Jacobs of Tocabe, an American Indian Eatery, in Denver, Colorado. Both chefs tasked four Twin Cities area chefs to prepare, create and share signature dishes to appeal to modern palates while harnessing the healthful and nutritious power of these local indigenous ingredients.
Sherman, born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, has been cooking across the U.S. and world for the last 30 years. His culinary focus has been revitalizing and creating awareness of indigenous foods systems in a modern culinary context. In 2014, he opened The Sioux Chef business as a caterer and food educator to the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area. In 2015 in partnership with the Little Earth Community of United Tribes in Minneapolis, he helped to design and open the Tatanka food truck, which features pre-contact foods of the Dakota and Minnesota territories. Chef Sean and his vision of modern indigenous foods have been featured in numerous articles and radio shows, along with dinners at the James Beard House in Manhattan and Milan, Italy. Sherman also teaches and shares his knowledge at Yale University, the Culinary Institute of America, the United Nations, and more. Sherman served as host for the evening.
Jacobs runs the Tocabe restaurant enterprise, which has a food truck and is working on opening a third location—qualifying it to be the country’s largest Native American restaurant chain. Tocabe, An American Eatery expands on Jacobs’ Osage family’s recipes to create a new and unique take on American Indian cuisine. Jacobs works to support Native food professionals and communities by using Native-made ingredients whenever possible. Tocabe has been recognized by media outlets such as the Food Network and publications such as Food & Wine, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and many others. Jacobs was instrumental in planning the event, but was unable to attend, as he was stranded in the airport during a snowstorm.
Participating chefs included Anne Andrus, Co-Owner and Chef of Honey & Rye Bakery, Beth Fisher, Executive Chef of French Meadow Café and Bakery, Thomas Boemer, Co-Owner and Chef of Twist Davis Group, and Joseph Holmes, Executive Chef of Red Stag Supperclub, all of who dished up flavors that are destined to become classics, and which, taken together, provided a full meal.
Joe Holmes started attendees off ra flat bread w/ herbs, native squash, smoked trout, and chokecherry compote. Before the event Holmes shared, “This will be my first time working with chokecherries and Native squash but being able to use ingredients that are indigenous to the region is always inspiring. As a chef, developing recipes with new ingredients is a challenge I eagerly welcome and playing with new flavors and textures fuels my creativity. The fact that these ingredients, being native to the region, are sustainably grown adds a sense of purpose to my work.”
Beth Fisher’s sumac-dusted beetballs with maple-glazed squash and Thomas Boemer’s Native squash and wheat berry risotto with staghorn sumac served as the main course. The risotto oat-like texture mixed well with a tangy flavor balanced by the squash, micro greens, and cream.
Anne Andrus’s Native Squash Pie Bar finished off the meal for dessert. It included a shortbread crust and was topped with a spiced squash filling, crowned with a dollop of chokecherry whip cream, and a dusting of sumac powder. Anne said, “I have experience cooking and baking with squash, yet when I received the native heirloom squash for this event, it almost felt new to me! The variety was so lovely and very rich in color, texture, and taste; a reminder to pause and enjoy the beauty that exists naturally in indigenous foods grown right here in Minnesota. The chokecherries were something that I hadn’t worked with before and I couldn’t help but focus on the fact that each one was so carefully harvested at the peak of their season, again, in our own backyard. Such an honor and pleasure to have this experience!
In addition to local chefs, attendees also had the opportunity to meet representatives from tribal college and university culinary programs, including Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College (Hayward, Wisconsin); Navajo Technical University (Crownpoint, New Mexico); United Tribes Technical College (Bismarck, North Dakota); and Southwestern Indian Polytechnical Institute (Albuquerque, New Mexico).
Guests also enjoyed the thrill of meeting Kevin McDermott, the long snapper for the Minnesota Vikings NFL team. Kevin addressed the group to introduce the MyCauseMyCleats initiative in which NFL players can promote their favorite charity by wearing custom cleats. McDermott chose the American Indian College Fund and offered up his custom cleats from the Minnesota Vikings vs. the Miami Dolphins game in 2018 for bidding.
McDermott shared he chose the College Fund as his featured charity because his family, based in South Dakota for generations, has long-supported Indigenous causes, and passed that respect and passion on to him. “All Americans, no matter their heritage, can do more to support indigenous organizations like the College Fund, which do not get the awareness or funds they deserve. Higher education changes lives. It has the power to transform families and communities. And it is a luxury not everyone can afford,” McDermott said.