Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Sean Sherman featured on ‘Top Chef: Wisconsin’ episode highlighting Indigenous cuisine

Sean Sherman is smiling and laughing while sitting during the gala
Indigenous Chef Sean Sherman listens to a speech before receiving the Julia Child Award in Minneapolis.
Tim Evans for MPR News | 2023

This season of Top Chef is taking place in Wisconsin. Chefs from across the country and even world are competing in different Wisconsin-themed challenges focusing on things like cheese, beer and cherries.

Wednesday night’s episode will be focused on Indigenous cuisine. And a familiar face will be there to judge and help out in the challenge. James Beard winner, and chef-owner of Owamni, Sean Sherman.

Sherman joined MPR News Host Cathy Wurzer to talk about his experience being part of Top Chef and sharing Indigenous cuisine on a national platform.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

What was being on the show like?

It was a whirlwind, you know, because we recorded, I think, last October or something like that over there. And, you know, they had us busy all day. And we were able to present them with a dinner, which showcases kind of the styles of things we’re talking about and the challenges that we’re presenting and then just watch everybody try to figure out what to do the next day.

What were the initial reactions from some of the chefs on Indigenous cuisine?

I think it was really interesting. It’s definitely a different kind of challenge than the typical challenges you see on shows like that. And we were able to bring in a whole bunch of really interesting ingredients. A lot of wild foods, a lot of true wild rice from here in Minnesota, and Wisconsin, different kinds of corns, and all these ingredients for people to play with and protein.

So they had a lot of stuff to choose from, and then having the ability to sit down with us at a dinner and talk about the philosophy and talk about how we’re approaching Native foods —just some of the pieces that are going into it. And you know, some of the philosophy that I’ve created of just cutting out colonial ingredients of things that were introduced, like wheat and dairy and flour, sugar, beef, pork and chicken.

What was the reaction?

I think they really had a great time with it, they looked really excited. I wish we could have spent more time with the chefs personally, but they’re we were all on kind of on a track. So it was interesting to be on the judging line of things, because we didn’t get a lot of interactions, except for watching the chefs, talking to them as they’re rushing around trying to cook everything. And then of course, tasting each of their dishes as it comes through.

Was there anything disastrous that happened while filming?

I wouldn’t say disastrous, but I would say that, you know, it was a challenge and they’re under tight timeframes. And they’re doing their best to experiment, they don’t have a lot of time to play. So you see a lot of people struggling and changing courses as you go, because that’s just things that happen. I think anybody who works in the kitchen understands that chaos, and I can see everybody was doing the best they could but you know, sometimes in the end, some of the dishes come out a little bit muddled.

Sean Sherman at the judges table on Top Chef
Minneapolis-based James Beard award-winning chef Sean Sherman (left) sits at the Top Chef judges table.
Courtesy of Sean Sherman

What was it like to you to get to share what you’ve been working on for so long with now a national audience?

I think it’s great, you know, because we’ve recently, obviously, I’ve gotten a lot of attention, nationally and internationally even. But, you know, for me, it’s just really about using this platform to talk about the work that we do, to talk about why it’s important to understand Indigenous foods, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous cultures, Indigenous histories, especially in North America. No matter where we are in North America, we’re standing on Indigenous lands. And unfortunately, Americans don’t know that much about our Indigenous communities.

Do you think there will be a Minnesota season of the show?

Let’s just make that happen. I think there’s a lot of storytelling to tell, we have so many amazing foods. I think that anybody that comes to Owamni and experience what we’ve created, and the upcoming gatherings café. So I think that there’s so much room for learning more and more about the true landscape of Minnesota, the true cultures here in Minnesota and what’s possible moving forward.

Can you tell us about the gathering café?

It’s at the new Minneapolis American Indian Center, they’ll be opening this summer. So we’re just excited to see that happen. And, you know, we’re just excited to keep things rolling out a Owamni. We have patio season now open so we’re bringing in a lot of people, and we’re serving food all over the place. And so it’s just exciting to see more and more options for Native American foods out there and just start starting to become normalized.

Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.