The food America erased – BBC

Through The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson use food as a guidepost to a hidden part of history, all while sparking a (r)evolution of “true” North American foods.

On the back patio at Owamni – the Minneapolis, Minnesota, restaurant owned by Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson – the late-evening sun cast my dessert in a natural spotlight. Marigold-coloured agave squash caramel cascaded slowly down the sides of a sunflower-seed cake the colour of sandstone, and a deep red berry sauce shimmered atop a maple chaga wedding cake so earthy in tone, it felt as though it was plucked from the forest floor.

The connection to nature is palpable here, where sweeping views of the Mississippi River, along with curated indigenous plants like prairie dropseed – whose high-protein seeds can be eaten raw or ground into a flour – etch themselves into the landscape like a painting.

“We named this cafe Owamni from the Dakota name OwamniYomni, for the waterfall that used to surround this area, ” said Thompson, a descendant of the Wahpeton Sisseton and Mdewakanton Dakota tribes. “It was said to be as beautiful as Niagara Falls. Spirit Island was the most sacred from the four islands here, and the Dakota and Anishinaabe communities would take their canoes there for ceremony, plus women would come from far away just to give birth there. ”

Thompson’s grandfather, who contributed historical knowledge to the book Where the Waters Gather and the Rivers Meet, an atlas of the Eastern Sioux published in 1994, made it possible for this important piece of indigenous history to live on.

One of Owamni’s many strengths is its ability to bridge the past to the present, knowing one can only exist because of the other. You feel this particular in the dining room, perched on the second floor of two abandoned flour mills, restored after the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Parks Foundation raised more than $19 million to honour the indigenous history of the area simply by creating a park with Owamni as its inspiration. It’s an investment that has already paid off inside powerful ways.

Less than a year after opening in July 2021, Owamni was called 2022’s Best New Restaurant in the United States by the James Beard Foundation – whose annual awards recognise exceptional talent in the culinary arts, hospitality, media as well as the broader food world. The accolade is big deal for any restaurant, but a monumental one when a decolonised menu is on the table. At Owamni, this means never using ingredients introduced in order to North America after Europeans arrived – including cane sugar, wheat, dairy, pork plus chicken. Instead, only native ingredients like turkey, bison, walleye, beans, wild rice, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, herbs, maple syrup and blue corn are featured.

Other ingredients – like crickets, acorns and timpsula (or prairie turnip) – might be unfamiliar to more mainstream American palates, despite coming from the places we walk, cycle and drive past. But eating the food here brings with it the profound sense of place difficult to put into words.

Sunflower-seed cake with agave squash caramel (Credit: Dana Thompson)

Sunflower-seed cake with agave squash caramel (Credit: Dana Thompson)

While I’ve had sunflower seeds and honey before, I never expected that, with the addition of water, such simple components could become a cake befitting any pastry shop. And though I can only imagine what a molten sunset absorbing a field of pumpkins into the hot, sticky flow would taste such as, I feel certain nothing stomach closer than the ethereal squash-agave caramel painted on top. It was so addictive I could have eaten an entire bowl of it. But then We wouldn’t have had room for that blue corn mush – a hazelnut and berry porridge – from the Ute Mountain Utomhus tribe in Colorado . A pool of maple syrup lay in wait at the bottom from the dish, and its sweetness, combined with the tender grit of the hammer toe meal, the particular crunch of the hazelnuts plus soft, tart berries, felt like a hug from my grandma.

And that glistening berry topping on the walnut chaga dessert? It’s a Lakota berry soup called wojape, which Sherman uses like a sauce in both sweet and savoury dishes. As a child, he’d gather buckets full of fresh chokecherries to make it but uses many different berries today.

The meals, while beautiful, is so much more than a plate of art. It’s a thoughtful entry point with regard to conversations about indigenous background – something inherent towards the mission associated with The Sioux Chef , the company Sherman, an Oglala Lakota chef, founded within 2014, plus co-owns along with Thompson. Their business started with catering and pop-ups and now includes a food truck, the non-profit North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS) – from which the Indigenous Food Lab , a professional indigenous kitchen and training centre in Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market is based – and, of course , Owamni. The particular wheels are already in motion to replicate the Native Food Laboratory across the country, with immediate plans for locations in Montana and Alaska, and, eventually, into more than 45 satellite locations across the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South America.

Owamni was named 2022's Best New Restaurant in the United States by the James Beard Foundation (Credit: Stefanie Ellis)

Owamni was named 2022’s Ideal New Cafe in the United States from the James Facial beard Foundation (Credit: Stefanie Ellis)

“North America’s history begins along with indigenous background, ” Sherman said. “There should be Native American restaurants all over the place. ”

While he and cooking cohorts – like James Beard finalist Crystal Wahpepah , cook Nephi Craig of Café Gozhóó in Arizona, cook and educator Hillel Echo-Hawk and I-Collective co-founder Neftali Duran – have long been working to shift the conversations around indigenous food, the cuisine is still just gaining a foothold in the US.

Recognising the limited time they have to capture guests’ attention, Owamni brings the past to life with intentional design touches – from a map that hangs in the foyer, noting the original indigenous names for the waterways and villages throughout Dakota Territory, to the sunlight-flooded dining area, whose wall of windows gives guests a clear view of the pulsing river below.

At the door, a neon sign reminds you: You Are on Local Land. Thompson asked if I’d like to pose under this for a photo and snapped away upon my iPhone. Though she and Sherman know some people still favour trendy meals photos over the story behind the food, they’re banking around the fact that the more exposure people have to native culture, the greater they’ll want to learn its history.

Owamni's dining room overlooks the Mississippi River (Credit: Stefanie Ellis)

Owamni’s dining room overlooks the particular Mississippi River (Credit: Stefanie Ellis)

But what that history is plus isn’t makes their work all the more challenging.

“History books were written by the US government, ” said Sherman. “You always hear how Native Americans died from starvation and disease, but people were intentionally mutilated, murdered and killed brutally.

“When you follow American history, you’ll see that through 1800-1900, indigenous people still had [access to] over 80 percent of land [in the US], yet by the end of that century, experienced access to just two percent. ”

He pointed to some shockingly long list of historic events systematically designed to stamp out native culture, such as the US government’s massive slaughtering of buffalo. Before 1800, an estimated 60 million buffalo roamed the land, offering crucial foods sources, together with material regarding shoes plus clothing, housing, cooking vessels and medicine. By 1900, after widespread efforts eradicated the buffalo grass population across the country, only a few hundred animals were left, effectively paralysing the particular mechanisms that will existed intended for indigenous people to maintain a self-sustaining way of life.

In his cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen , Sherman explains that fry bread – often the just thing people associate with Native American food – is “a difficult symbol connecting the present towards the painful narrative of our background. It originated [nearly 155 years ago] when the US government forced our ancestors from your homelands they farmed, foraged and hunted, and the waters they fished. Displaced and moved to reservations, they lost control of their food and had been made to rely on government-issued commodities – canned meat, white flour, sugars and lard. Fry bread contributes to high levels of diabetes and obesity that affect nearly one-half of the Native population living on bookings. Obesity plus tooth decay did not can be found among indigenous people associated with North America before colonial ingredients were introduced. ”

The seeds from prairie dropseed can be eaten raw or ground into a flour (Credit: Stefanie Ellis)

The seeds from prairie dropseed can be consumed raw or even ground right into a flour (Credit: Stefanie Ellis)

Sherman, who grew up on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, says these historical events devastated so much for human beings and their own knowledge base, yet no one is talking about it.

“It’s not ancient history, inch he stated. “This simply happened. inch

Every culture has its own connection to meals, including exactly how it’s prepared, grown and consumed. For indigenous individuals, food sovereignty – the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food and the right in order to define as well as agriculture systems – was erased through colonisation. Sherman hopes to put the power back in the hands from the people, because he believes when you control your food, you control your destiny.

In North America, ingredients like the tepary bean, a culturally appropriate food and an important heirloom crop brought back from near extinction by Ramona Farms in Arizona, grow abundantly in areas without a lot of water. And at Owamni, when mixed with salt, sunflower oil, pepita meal and maple syrup, it creates an immensely comforting foundation for the tender tumble of smoked Lake Superior trout (from the Red Cliff Band associated with Lake Superior Chippewa within Wisconsin) piled on top. The particular fish has been remarkable – evoking memories of a snuffed-out campfire that left the tiniest trail of smoke lingering in the air, catching you off guard whenever you walk past.

The duck sausage, served with roasted turnips along with a watercress puree, was succulent and elegant, notes associated with maple whispering on the palate. It was the perfect companion to a bowl of tender and nutty hand-harvested wild rice – actually the particular seed of an aquatic grass – along with dried currants and root vegetables.

Hand-harvested wild rice (Credit: Dana Thompson)

Hand-harvested wild grain (Credit: Dana Thompson)

The natural world has been always the connective thread in Sherman’s life. Even in the year this individual spent after high school working as a field surveyor for your US Forest Service , identifying plants and trees in South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest – whose title comes from the Lakota words, Paha Sapa , meaning hills that are black – he mentioned memories coded into his DNA began to unlock.  

“We know the names of more Kardashians than all of us do trees and shrubs, ” Sherman said. “Plant knowledge will be power. Everything has a purpose. Even poisonous plants, in case used correctly, can be medication. ”

Mexican inspiration

The roasted, skin-on sweet potatoes with native chilli crisp served in Owamni are usually inspired simply by Sherman’s time in Mexico. “There’d be this guy who came around with steamed sweet potatoes he or she served along with chili plus lime, inches he recalled. “His cart whistled as he came down the street. I liked that combo of fairly sweet and spicy. I harvest chillies in my own garden to make this using walnut sugar, dried chiles, sunflower oil and salt. ”

Most of their career was focused on dining places – bussing tables, washing dishes, learning to make pasta, studying wine and, ultimately, becoming a good executive chief cook at 29. In 2008, he took a year off from his job rebuilding the particular restaurant program for a large fitness corporation, and moved to the village of San Pancho inside Nayarit, Mexico.

“I saw so many commonalities between the way the indigenous Huichol people in my village were living, and how I actually grew up, plus realised I didn’t know much regarding my Lakota ancestry, inch he remembered. “I began researching everything I could find, and the more history We learned, the more important this particular work became. I wanted to open up doors to something that has been very hidden, and I can do that will through foods. We all have a connection to it as humans, and it’s a gateway to understanding some other cultures. ”

While Sherman won the James Beard Awards to get Leadership in 2019 and for Best United states Cookbook within 2018, this year’s best new eating place honour opens more space for discussions about history, privilege and the continued fight for a seat at the table.

“It’s a game changer, inches he said. “Typically, it’s saved pertaining to high-end restaurants for really privileged individuals – European chefs making European food items. Not much diversity has gone into that award, so to stand out in a crowd like that and get the attention we need to pull off exactly what we’re doing, is incredible. ”

“There’s a lot of damage in our background, and a lot of healing that needs to be done, but we have to start somewhere. What we’re doing is just a little step into something much larger. ”

Thompson sees the particular impact of their work mirrored by the community. “The staff, city, additional business owners, Indigenous community, people who come with their particular roller bag from the airport who didn’t make a reservation – it’s this particular organism now, ” the girl said. “People are truly invested in this existing. ” 

And while Sherman admits that a restaurant is perhaps one of the worst business programs you can come up with, he also believes one restaurant can change an entire local community.

“We’re just trying to take as much knowledge from our ancestors and creating spaces to learn – operating backwards to start to reclaim it so that we have a true (r)evolution associated with indigenous meals, ” he said. “Our restaurant is just showing what’s possible, and I think it’s proving its point. ”

Mixed berry wojape served over a maple chaga cake with sunflower-seed brittle (Credit: Dana Thompson)

Mixed berry wojape served over a maple chaga cake with sunflower-seed brittle (Credit: Dana Thompson)

Combined Berry Wojape (makes about 2-4 cups)
Owamni by The Sioux Chef

1 cup water
1 pinch mineral sodium [such as sea salt]
1 cup blackberries
a single cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries
1 cup strawberries, tops removed
2 tablespoons maple syrup


  1. Bring the water to a simmer in a medium saucepan; add the salt and the berries.
  2. Let simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, continuing in order to stir as the berries break down. Cook to your
    desired consistency.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the maple syrup.  

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