In partnership with the Indigenous Food Network, the Minneapolis American Indian Center and Dream of Wild Health will host their third annual Indigenous Food Tasting this evening in the vestibule in front of Gatherings Cafe.
For two hours this evening, chefs will come together to serve a feast in honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The night’s mission is intricate and personal, weaving together threads touching on taste and history, as well as hopes for the community and what the future might hold—all stories captured and conveyed through food.
Participating chefs change each year, and tonight will include members of the Sioux Chef team, Elena Terry of Wild Bearies Catering, Native Food Perspectives (Christina White), Austin Bartold of Austin's Catering, Howasta Means of Spirit Dish Catering, and youth leaders working in tandem with chef Ben Shendo of Gatherings Cafe.
Turnout for last year's tasting approached 400, and this year is expected to be even bigger.
Speaking on behalf of the Sioux Chef crew, chef Vern DeFoe revealed he’d planned on making a soup before discovering that department will be well covered by other chefs. “Now we’re making sunflower cookies and cedar tea. The tea is good, but it’s also got a lot of medicinal properties to it.”
When asked what his personal goals for the event are, DeFoe perked up at the idea of introducing the public to, say, that very same tea’s duality of possessing healing and spiritual properties, versus those who'd read it only as a refreshing drink.
When it comes to serving these traditional beverages and dishes in a contemporary setting, DeFoe noted, “I’ve seen a lot of different reactions, and commonly with Native people, they think it’s, like, crappy health food. They want fry bread, which is deep-fried, super bleached, white, wheat flour in, like, Crisco pretty much,” DeFoe says, reflecting on his experience bringing Native food to the masses through the Sioux Chef as well as the Tatanka Truck.
“And then you have a lot of people who are like, into food culture, which generally can be wealthy liberal white people, so even if I make something I think is mediocre, they’re just, like, [really into] it,” he laughs, suggesting any opportunity to show the entire value of Native food—to anyone—is exciting.
“Food is really one of the biggest things that Native people are starting to reclaim and I feel like we need to reclaim… well, obviously we need to reclaim everything,” he says.
By training the next generation in traditional cooking, Ben Shendo of Gatherings Cafe feels like he’s “taking a blanket off stuff that’s been hidden for a long time.” But he’s doing more than just teaching kids how to hold down a saute line.
“I’m thinking about all the other groups we’ve had come through,” he says, of the rotating crew of 11- to 16-year-olds he instructs each Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve done filleting a walleye with them, skinning a rabbit, baking bread, kind of doing all that, and then at the end, shooting a bow and arrow. I always remind them that back then, they’d be the ones going out hunting for the community, going out to get the meat, gather stuff, and so it’s just kind of in the modern sense giving them that sense of responsibility for the community.”
“Nowadays it’s a whole ’nother lifestyle than what our grandparents grew up in,” says Shendo, while grabbing a server pad and holding it like a video game controller. “The values have shifted dramatically and to kind of get that back into the kids—like they say, it’s so old that it’s new again.”
Anyone who attends tonight’s event will experience first-hand the values and skills Shendo is instilling in his charges as he hands the cafe’s reins over to them for the tasting.
“[Dream of Wild Health has] a cookbook, which is really cool, so they’re going to do a soup from there, a Four Sisters Soup—beans, corn, squash, wild rice, and adding the bison. So that’s what they’re working on. Then they wanted to do a fruit salad.”
He also made mention of squash bars to round out a trio of offerings.
As in everything he works on, Shendo parted with a reminder that food is just one of many vehicles for growth—at tonight’s event and beyond—which is kind of the point in everything.
“Food is history, and sometimes history is really painful. But once you get past that, and you’re at the point, or I guess, maturity of forgiveness… and once you get to understand history a little bit better, you’re going to be able to open to yourself.”
The Indigenous Food Tasting is open to the public, and free. Come celebrate and learn.
Indigenous Food Tasting 2019
Minneapolis American Indian Center
1530 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
Monday, October 14, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m
Free, open to the public