The Sioux Chef Spreading the Gospel of America’s First Food
The Tatanka food truck serves Native American food like cedar-braised bison with roasted sunchokes over corn cakes with maple beans.
You wouldn’t believe how hard it has been to explain what indigenous food is,” chef Sean Sherman tells me. “I’ve had the same conversation over and over. I have to go back to the beginning all the time.”
For Sherman, a Sioux chef championing indigenous food, going back to the beginning means talking about the unbroken presence of Native people in the Americas, and the food systems that once nourished them. It means peeling back the layers of colonial foods that, over centuries, have coated indigenous diets—sugar, industrial meat, processed grains. It means finding a way to express these traditions in the context of modern urban dining in the restaurant he and his business and romantic partner Dana Thompson plan to open early next year.
The restaurant will be called Sioux Chef: An Indigenous Kitchen, and it won’t serve salmon on a cedar plank or fry bread or macaroni. Sherman’s more straightforward notion of indigenous comfort food includes dishes like smoked turkey soup with burnt sage, bison slow-cooked in spruce boughs, and a sunflower and hazelnut crisp. Using modern combinations and ancient ingredients and methods, he’s after something simultaneously old, and yet new.
Sherman grinds cornmeal for flint corn cakes. He smokes trout and walleye. He pops heirloom corn. He avoids pork, chicken, and beef. No sugar or eggs. These American staples weren’t historically available to indigenous tribes. Sherman’s cooking is a reclamation of identity.
Wozupi Tribal Gardens, outside of Minneapolis, grows heirloom crops indigenous to the region.