'Sioux Chef' bringing pre-colonization foods to restaurant scene

Updated: 2:55 p.m. | Posted: 10:45 a.m.

An American Indian chef is hosting a series of events in the Twin Cities this week to teach what he's learned about "pre-colonization" foods.

Sean Sherman, who opened a business called The Sioux Chef this fall, is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and grew up on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

"Having grown up on Pine Ridge reservation, having had a pretty successful chef career in Minneapolis and other areas, I got to the point where I realized there was such a void with American Indian food," Sherman said. "I'd tell people I want to study American Indian food, and people wouldn't have any idea what I was talking about."

Sherman said he studied foods native of Lakota and Ojibwa people independently for a number of years by reading history and botany books.

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"I had to develop my own education plan because there isn't a Native American cookbook Bible out there," Sherman said. "I started researching the knowledge of wild foods... and trying to get a feel for all the plants growing as best I can."

Many of these foods, which can feature wild rice, corn or squash, will be familiar to modern eaters. But there are also many misconceptions about American Indian food. Fry bread — dough cooked in fat — is a relatively modern creation that was spurred by U.S. government handouts of flour, Sherman said.

"The government did a really good job of almost removing the food culture completely," Sherman said. "I really feel like a culture without its food identity really takes a hit culturally."

Some of the ingredients Sherman discovered aren't widely used in modern cooking in the region. Rebecca Yoshino, director of Wozupi Tribal Gardens, has been working with Sherman to cultivate some of the rarer ingredients like Potawatomi lima beans.

"These are an heirloom bean that have been passed down from generation to generation," Yoshino said. "We actually got those beans from a local organization called Dream of Wild Health who originally got those beans from a Potawatomi seed keeper."

Yoshino said they've worked with scientists and breeders to ensure that they maintain the purity and integrity of the seeds they obtain.

"If we get a small amount of seeds that have been dormant for many, many years, there's a burden of responsibility there," Yoshino said.

Sherman is hosting hosting a two-night takeover of Aster Cafe in Minneapolis this week, including music and performances by American Indian artists.