Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rations for all.

Topic: Native American Cuisine
Region specific: Western Apache Cooking and Cuisine
Micro-Regional Definition: White Mountain Apache Cuisine of Dzilgha'a

Question: "Why haven't I heard of Native American Cuisine?"

To attempt to answer, as a Native person and a chef myself...

It is very important to remember that what is perceived as Native American Cuisine, even to ourselves, is really not indigenous at all. This fact is becoming more widely accepted, but we have a long way to go. As we move forward as Native American People in the year 2014 we are still confronted by misconceptions on our collective pathway toward Social Recovery and Recovery from Colonialism. As we Acknowledge, Consider, Explore, Embrace and Maintain Life in a colonial reality, a form of intellectual and spiritual decolonization begins to take place. One of the most important elements of our lives is the decolonial cooking and cuisine.

What is Native American Cuisine? One might rush to say, "Frybread!" This crispy, delicious, deep-fried concoction that has both sweet and savory applications in the kitchen, is in fact NOT indigenous cooking. 
To be very critical, with public health in mind, Frybread is really a taste of American Colonialism. Frybread is a taste of confinement and oppression. This deceptively delicious food that I also grew up eating and have many fond memories attached to it has a harsh reality. Frybread and other dishes have brought on a public health epidemic of epic proportions throughout Native America. This health epidemic is not only physical, it is also mental, emotional, spiritual and it is the violence in our communities. A major piece of our "social issues", as some would call it, is really a result of this image here, which is a U.S. Military Food Ration Ticket.
Indian Ration Card
As the California Gold Rush and Manifest Destiny took root in Native America, many forms of warfare were employed by American settlers, the military, and enforced by the government in the name of progress. Biological and Spiritual Warfare consumed Native peoples and once all Native Peoples, were "confined" or "pacified" on the Prison Camps called Reservations, a new wave of warfare would be waged on the children of prisoners of war in the first United States Indian Boarding Schools like this one here in Carlisle Pennsylvania. 

In understanding and articulating Native American Cuisine, I use the terms Culinary Imperialism and Violent Appropriation of Food-ways. The brutal decimation of the American Bison, the Plains Indians and the imposition of non-Native foods and the deliberate creation of dependency is evidence of Culinary Warfare in our culinary history.

Below is a stark example of Culinary Warfare and Created Dependency. Look at the countless Dakota Peoples during the 1830's receiving Military Food Rations. The control of the food supply and distribution of unhealthy foods is a spirit crushing event to indigenous peoples.
Military Food Rations being distributed to the Dakota Natives during the 1830's
Regardless of climate, region and culinary heritage, Military Food Rations were issued. This photo below is taken on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, one of the worst Prison Camps in the for all bands of Apaches in 1892. 
Receiving Food Rations at San Carlos Agency 1892
Waiting for Rations in 1905, Indiana (note the Calvary)

The illustration below is of the distribution of food rations to the "Indians" at Medicine Bluff Creek in 1869.

Traditional Basketry brought to Ft. Gaston will carry non native foods. 1877
This is a photo from Ft. Gaston in Northern California in 1877. Again Native women most likely from the Hoopa Nation bring their traditional food baskets to carry a new foreign food that would eventually contribute to the public health epidemic among their posterity. 

Rations for all 1905. 
"Rations for all 1905" A Library of Congress photo.

What these images illustrate is a wide spread form of culinary warfare on all parts of Native America...all parts of Indian Country. It did not matter what "Reservation" you were from or what tribe you represented, you got the same Food Rations. Together we grew up with a common trauma at the deepest level. Our grandmothers, aunts and mothers employed humble culinary ingenuity and as a result, we grew up with foods like Frybread. I believe that the reason there is so much nostalgia, love and humor attached to Frybread is because it is a coping mechanism for the harsh reality...the harsh origin of a widely accepted food staple that has contributed to our current health epidemic across Native America. Look at this Bureau of Indian Affairs map of Indian Reservations in the United States and remember that Military Food Rations and the Boarding School System was employed on every remaining piece of Native Territory.

Cultural Integration 
From 1491 to 1991 in America we see and experience a great interruption of all forms of culture including cuisine. The complex trade routes that enabled the sharing of food, culture and technology are halted or wiped out completely. 500 years of warfare and oppression is a critical piece of our Indigenous Culinary History in the American historical landscape that is not talked about. This conversation has begun and it requires a courageous dialog. 

Native American Cuisine, for me, is about resiliency...Our Shared Resiliency as Native peoples. My interpretation of Native American Cuisine is also about responsibility...responsibility to move forward in light of this history with a healthy work ethic, beyond the stage of resistance and into the threshold of real tangible change because of resiliency.

This image is of two White Mountain Apache Scouts on horseback. My White Mountain Apache and Dineh Ancestors literally saw the world end during the 1800's, so I am writing this as a post-apocalyptic Western Apache/Dineh Chef in this new reality. What we are left with is our language, our landscape, our waters and food relatives. We are left with the pieces of our Indigeneity to piece our identity back together. This is how powerful our Western Apache "Terrior" is today for us as we practice Native cooking and articulate cuisine. 

This Culinary History is THE REASON that Native American Cuisine is not "considered" to be a cuisine at all. Native/Indigenous American Cuisine of Turtle Island is a Mother Cuisine. Despite this bloody history of conquest, colonization and imperialism, the people, plants, water and the land are communicating this message of indigenous ingenuity and shared resiliency in culture/cuisine. It is powerful moment in time and by all means necessary the dialog must continue. In our region we push onward with a sense of responsibility to our land and we call it Land Advocacy. As stewards of the landscape in this new reality, we are able to piece together an intimate portrayal of who we are today. We are able to weave a tapestry of gastronomic history that contributes to our Social Recovery. As a mentor of mine once said, "Disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed." -D.Nunez

Restoring Balance through Indigenous Food

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

A place in history

Pre-Reservation Western Apache Bands
This image is of pre-reservation Western Apache bands. We are cooking in the area known as Dziłgha’á on this map. The high mountains is where we have been working together for the past 5 years with me at the helm as head chef. This has been life changing for me as a chef.

The work that we have done in our community has taken time. Places like Cibecue or the group known as Dził T'aadn have taught lessons and created anchor points for our style of cooking by lending wisdom and opening portals to our Apache Universe through food. The harvesting of juniper berries, juniper, grasses, wild carrots, wild potatoes and other wild edibles that we preserved have provided us with an plethora of taste, flavor and texture. These ingredients we harvested our selves are now being used on our chefs table this winter season.

The Chefs Table at Sunrise Park Resort, which is located in the region of Dziłgha’á on the map here, is a very special occurrence in our history. This group of White Mountain Apaches, our crew has taken Western Apache food ideologies and adapted them to the world around us. As you read this, continue to look back and forth at the map because this is the land of our ancestors and our culinary work with Western Apache Food is decolonization in action. 

It has been the mountains and landscape that have given the most inspiration to our style of cooking. The Chef's Table has been where we utilize the foods from a Chef's perspective. 

Sublimation and "Freezer Burn" or Denaturing egg proteins
More importantly we have been able to share and Re-Member our wild foods with our Apache youth through Science and Cooking workshops where we delve into Western realizations of the natural world that are also articulated in Apache and Navajo. Photosynthesis and energy transfer for example are both described philosophically in life models that are cosmic. By integrating science and cooking with our Western Apache wild foods with youth and adults we get to explore energy transfer in the cooking process and understand the denaturing of proteins in cooking by applying energy on both sides of the spectrum, hot and and ice. 

Energy Transfer through metal, water and gas
By integrating Indigenous philosophy with science, we gain a understanding of our world that is empowering. We also begin to realize that much of Western Science is catching up to Indigenous models of life that integrate science in a natural way. These indigenous science and cooking workshops integrate wild foods and require a botanical knowledge, an Ancestral Knowledge that many of our community members possess. The application of heat/energy, minerals like salt/sugar, acid and smoke to our indigenous foods causes us to interact and revitalize the intimate relationship with our activates a relationship and interaction with our own Terrior. This is the remedy to violence and a movement toward using the vocabulary of affection in our homes and in our minds. The feeling of being "lost" or the despondency felt when identity is lost or not valued is remedied by finding identity through cultural and Ancestral Knowledge. It illustrates the keen intelligent nature of our ancestors and the keen intelligence we possess today. 

Our Western Apache Food and Identity System is cosmic

We also make our Ancestral Knowledge relevant for our generation. When too many people look at the black and white images of Native American history as ages ago, but in reality the black and white images of the past are a mere 3 generations back. Our living history begins to speak and the food is the anchor point in our lifetime, our shared history informs our practice and our shared resilience will ensure the future. 

Apache Elders at our Chef's Table

As a part of  Dziłgha’á, our culinary work is community based and focused on the empowerment of people through sensory experience and participant observation. The late anthropologist Keith Basso has a book titled, "Wisdom Sits in Places" and this is true. The lessons we learned only came from visiting the places where the wild food grew. The lessons came from visiting the landscape where the place-names originated. The anchor points for identity came from cultivating a relationship with self and our land. This Re-Membering of our food traditions inform our practice on the Chef's Table and we produce dishes that are world class, place-based and executed with humility. 

Western Apache 2014

This is one of our dishes Gah (or rabbit) with Onion, Root Vegetables and Sauce Nana. Plated with river stones from the Salt River Canyon. "The Land has Power", we capture this sentiment/fact by bringing in 
elements of the land to use them in our presentation.

Western Apache Food and Cooking

This is a Venison course with pickled onions from Dził T'aadn or Cibecue, dried squash and our crushed Apache Trail Mix. It is garnished with Wild Carrots also from Dził T'aadn. 

Grace inspired Western Apache Cuisine

This is a winter vegetable course inspired by Grace in Chicago where I went to be a stagier this year, two days after they were awarded two Michelin Stars. 

Winter root vegetables are the inspiration here, there is an animal power linked to root vegetables in our Apache universe that is also cosmic. Here we use Amaranth to honor the complex civilizations of all of the Americas.

Roasted Parsnip, Charred Turnip, Braised Radish, Braised Carrot, Charred Sweet Parsnip, Raw Brussels Sprouts with Acid, Raw Radish, Confit Tomato and Baby Kale. We liken being a stagier to an Apache Raiding Campaign in history, where we travel to access tools, technology, foods, gain intelligence and resources to bring them home, adapting them to our own ideals and making them our own. Thank you to Chef Curtis and the Grace team!

This image below is one way that we capture "Identity, Time and Place" in our cuisine. Pictured to the left is an image of the ribs of an Apache dwelling or wickiup. In the Apache language the wickiup is called Gowah or Home. To the right is a dish that evolved on our Chef's Table using pears.

Western Apache Cooking and Cuisine
This dish is translated to Masáána bik’os ndeezi bigową or "The Long-Neck Apple's House" in Apache. There is pears in various forms and a delicious pinon cloud, the spun sugar is the Gowah and 6 different cooking techniques are applied to the pear and served here. 

Joseph C. Ivans, 1899-1992
We chose pears, although not indigenous to the Americas, because my great-grandfather Joseph C. Ivans grew pears in his garden and as a kid, we used to climb those pear trees. My great-grandfather was born in 1899 at the end of the Apache world and on the brink of our Western Apache Revolution that created the world we exist in today. My grandpa Ivans was put on a train in Holbrook, Arizona as a child and sent across the United States to be a student at the Carlisle Indian School, which was the military model for all other boarding schools in the United States. My grandpa Joseph Ivans lived through the next assault on Indigenous existence in America which was a form of psychological warfare on entire generation of Native children under the guise of education in the boarding school system, children who had families then living as prisoners of war on "Reservations". My grandfather represents and embodies Indigenous Resiliency and it was his garden that first introduced me to agriculture and fresh food that he grew for his family in poverty. 

The black and white images are not so far away. This is our living history told through cooking and cuisine. We stand strong in our fields of shared resiliency honoring our culinary traditions while creating decolonial pathways toward solutions.  We are conscious of our place in culinary history and as a Chef, I watch other chefs activate similar forms of Ancestral Knowledge based on their own terrior and it is inspiring to see across the world as we enter an age of responsibility in food culture. Our shared recovery from colonialism is indeed gastronomic, scientific, biological, cosmic and spiritual. 

This is how we are activating Ancestral Knowledge in Western Apacheria. We are grateful that food has been the medium to communicate themes of empowerment, revitalization, decolonization and indigenous health to all people. In the sacred high mountains of Dziłgha’á or the Eastern White Mountains, the land is speaking and we are conduits for the messages in the plants, land, animals, waters...Land Advocates for our Western Apache terrior. 


Saturday, November 23, 2013

NACA's 2013 Indigenous Food Symposium: Celebrating People, Land and Food


The Native American Culinary Association, Tohono O'odham Community Action and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum are proud to present and bring the following symposium presenters to Tucson, Arizona for this unique indigenous food culture event. 

Register online here:

NACA Symposium Presenters

Arlie Doxtator, Oneida Executive Chef
Bio: Arlie Doxtator has 27 years of professional culinary experience as a First Nations Chef in Hotel/Casino, independent, private resort and corporate food service. Chef Arlie has been featured in numerous publications including Native People's Magazine, Chef’s Magazine and the Green Bay Press Gazette. Chef Doxtator specializes in the research and study of the indigenous foods of the Lotinishoni--People of the Long House, and their importance of their existence in the future. Chef Doxtator specializes in Indigenous Culinary Linguistics developing and promoting Indigenous foodways on a national, inter-generational and community level for wellness throughout Native America. 

Bleu Adams, Owner/Operator at Black Sheep Café
Owner, Black Sheep Cafe, Blue Pablano, Board Member of Local First Provo: Member, Native American Culinary Association (NACA), SLC Kitchen Collective
Bio: April is Navajo, Hidatsa and Mandan descent originally from Provo, Utah. April started in the food business selling homemade Navajo foods at countless pow wow’s and events over the years. On September 1, 2011 April her husband, family and sister signed a lease for 19 N University in Provo. Utah. This is the location of Black Sheep Café, of which April Adams is owner and operator of this successful independent restaurant.

Mark Daniel Mason. ”I am Hidatsa/Mandan and Dine'. I started cooking at the age age of 8. My earliest culinary memories are from waking in my Great Grandmothers hogan to the smell and tastes of coffee, bacon and blue corn mush. I have lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico and fell in love with the chiles, flavors and bold cuisine of the southwest. I self-trained throughout the 90's in French and Italian cooking techniques. I continued my training in restaurant kitchens of the American southwest region in Scottsdale Arizona. In Scottsdale I trained in the kitchen of Marcellino Ristorante under master chef Marcellino Verzino. I am currently Chef/ partner of Black Sheep Cafe and Blue Pablano Taqueria in Provo, Utah. At Black Sheep Cafe we offer cuisine inspired by not only the southwest but all North America utilizing corn, squashes, beans to rabbit, quail, venison and bison. We offer frybread in desserts and tacos with slow braised pork and beef under scratch made salsa verde and roja!”

Claudia Serrato, MA 
Bio: Offering critical Indigenous critiques and perspectives while engaging a decolonizing approach, doctoral student of sociocultural anthropology, Claudia Serrato, creates a space to explore and re-member Indigenous food cosmologies through sensory and memory work, while addressing Indigenous health and health outcomes. Her most recent project weaves Indigenous and queer knowledge's with womb ecology as a decolonizing practice centered around Indigenous gastronomy and healing. As a community chef, Claudia prepares meals for cultural gatherings, facilitates cooking workshops, and speaks on cultural nutrition as practice of accountability to all of our relations. She can be found at

Neftalí Durán was born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico, but it wasn’t until he moved to a close knit Mexican community in West Los Angeles in 1997 that he began to understand the importance of Oaxacan culture and its infinite gastronomy. After working in restaurant kitchens in LA for 7 years, Neftali moved to Western Massachusetts to learn the craft of baking bread in a wood-fired oven. Since 2003, he has been running El Jardin Bakery, an artisanal bread bakery and cafe in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. After years of living on the East Coast, Nef has dedicated himself to researching all aspects of Oaxacan culture and cuisine. When he’s not busy sourcing the best Mexican ingredients available in New England, you can find Nef baking bread in a wood-fired oven, roasting whole animals in a fire pit, or catering elaborate meals. His work has been featured on and on Man Fire Food on The Cooking Channel.

Valerie Segrest is a native nutrition educator who specializes in local and traditional foods. She received a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University in 2009 and a Masters Degree in Environment and Community from Antioch University. As an enrolled member of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, she serves her community as the coordinator of the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project and also works for the Northwest Indian College’s Traditional Plants Program as a nutrition educator. In 2010, she co-authored the book “Feeding the People, Feeding the Spirit: Revitalizing Northwest Coastal Indian Food Culture”. She is a fellow for the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy. Valerie hopes to inspire and enlighten others about the importance of a nutrient-dense diet through a simple, common sense approach to eating.

Ofelia Zepeda (Tohono O'odham) AILDI director, is a Regents' professor of linguistics and affiliate faculty in American Indian Studies and Language, Reading and Culture at the University of Arizona. She teaches Tohono O'odham language courses and survey courses on American Indian languages. Her research areas include language variation, language policy, and issues of endangered languages. She has published numerous articles in these areas. She is also author of The Tohono O'odham Grammar and of two books of poetry, much of it written in the O'odham language.  Dr. Zepeda is also the recipient of a MacArthur fellowship for her work on Indigenous languages. She has served on numerous boards and is currently a trustee of the Tohono O'odham Community College. Dr. Zepeda has been involved in AILDI practically since its inception as an instructor and founding co-director. Her breadth of experience in the field of language revitalization continues to guide the institution.

Chris Rodriguez, Chef/Scholar
Bio: Chris Rodriguez is a Xicano, professional chef and co-creator of the grassroots community health project Decolonial Food For Thought. He is an independent scholar and political commentator on native and Indigenous food autonomy and sovereignty movements in Mesoamerica. 

Samantha Antone, Tewa/Hopi from the Village of Tewa in First Mesa. Samantha is the Program Manager of the   Natwani Coalition serving as a facilitator for the planning, organizing, and implementation of community-based and culturally relevant agricultural initiatives. She is also the content developer for the Hopi Natwani for Youth Project (HNYP) farming curriculum. 

Lois Ellen Frank, Ph.D.
Bio: Lois Ellen Frank is a working Chef at Red Mesa Cuisine, a Native American Catering Company specializing in locally sourced, seasonal Native American foods. She is also a James Beard Award winning cookbook author of Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations. Her work is internationally known and influences a generation of Native Chefs.

Walter Whitewater, Chef/Author
Bio: Walter Whitewater is a working Chef at Red Mesa Cuisine, a Native American Catering Company specializing in locally sourced, seasonal Native American foods. Chef Whitewater is also a James Beard Award winning cookbook co-author of Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations. His work is internationally known and influences an entire generation of Native Chefs.

Jandi Hernandez is a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe.  Jandi is of the Dishchiidn clan, born for Nakaiye'. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of Western Apache Center for Food & Agriculture (WACFA) and works to educate adults and children about restorative indigenous practices, wellness, and capacity building.  Jandi is currently     serving as a board member for First Things First White Mountain Apache Regional Council and holds a Firestarter certification through the White Bison Wellbriety Movement.  She helps to develop and facilitate wellness programs with traditional Apache curriculum for Apache Behavioral Health Services (ABHS) in Whiteriver and First Things First San Carlos Apache Parenting Program.

Kyle Knox, Farmer at Natwani Coalition
Bio: Kyle is Hopi and Akimel O’odham (Pima) from the village of Kykotsmovi and is a member of the Coyote clan. Mr. Knox has a BA in Fine Arts and Media Production from ASU and brings his experience as an active Hopi farmer to help shape the future of the Natwani Coalition.

Chef Sean Sherman, Oglala Lakota Sioux, born in Pine Ridge, SD, has been cooking in MN, SD & MT for the last 25 years. He is currently the Executive Chef of Common Roots Cafe and Catering in Minneapolis, MN which features local and organic foods and an organic urban garden. Chef Sherman’s main culinary focus has been the “pre-reservation” indigenous knowledge of wild foods. His studies have taken him to the Crow tribes of the Bighorn and Beartooth Mountain Ranges in Wyoming and Montana, the Sioux plains in the Dakotas, the Ojibwe forests and lakes throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. Chef Sherman has been readying his own concept of Modern & Traditional Native American Foods of these Northern Tribes to bring to the public by opening his vision of indigenous foods in the form of a restaurant, learning center and meeting grounds in MN by early Fall of 2014.

Seth Pilsk, is a Botanist, and has worked for the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s Department of Forest Resources for over twenty years.  He has worked directly with elders from the Arizona Apache tribes on a number of cultural preservation projects focused on the traditional Apache relationship with the natural world.

Nephi Craig, Chef/Founder of NACA and Executive Chef
Bio: Nephi Craig is the Chef and Founder of The Native American Culinary Association or NACA. Chef Craig has 14 years of professional experience as a Native Chef. Chef Craig has cooked all over the world in Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Japan specializing in Native American Cuisine. Chef Craig is the creator of the Apaches in the Kitchen blog. Nephi Craig is also the co-founder and CEO of The Western Apache Center for Food and Agriculture or WACFA, a not-for-profit organization dedicated the protection of land, food, people and water rights in Western Apacheria. Executive Chef Craig, lends his international experience, vision and expertise in Restorative Indigenous Culinary Practices to the development of WACFA in order to empower local communities through indigenous food and agriculture. Craig currently serves as Executive Chef for the Sunrise Park Resort Hotel on the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

                               Register Today!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

NACA Executive Chef and Founder, Nephi Craig

Executive Chef Nephi Craig Bio
Exec. Chef Nephi Craig
Nephi Craig is an enrolled member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. Craig is also half Navajo on his late-father’s side. Chef Craig is also the chef and founder of The Native American Culinary Association (NACA) is an organization/network that is dedicated to the research, refinement, and development of Native American Cuisine. NACA has been developed to provide authentic, quality representation of Native Peoples in professional cookery. The Native American Culinary Association also serves as a networking tool for professional Native Chefs and emerging culinary talent. Chef and NACA Founder Nephi Craig provides training, workshops and lecture sessions on Native American Cuisine to schools, restaurants and tribal entities from across America and abroad. A highlight of his work with NACA is when Nephi was able to help prepare a Native American themed menu for the renowned James Beard Foundation at the James Beard House in New York City. This was Craig’s second James Beard Dinner in two years.

NACA Chef Nephi Craig has served as head chef for four international tasting dinners.
These culinary events were held in London, UK; Cologne, Germany; and Osaka, Japan. Chef Craig has also served as head chef in Sao Paulo, Brazil working for the United States
Consulate and Senac College providing training, workshops, and various tasting dinners
showcasing Native American Cuisine during the Shared Indigenous Heritage Festival
in April 2007.

Nephi Craig is also the co-founder and CEO of The Western Apache Center for Food and Agriculture or WACFA, a not-for-profit organization dedicated the protection of land, food, people and water rights in Western Apacheria. Executive Chef Craig, lends his international experience, vision and expertise in Restorative Indigenous Culinary Practices to the development of WACFA in order to empower local communities through indigenous food and agriculture.

Craig is also a published author. Craig has written pieces for the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. and the Center for American Indian Elderly. Craig writes about the current state and evolution of Native American culinary traditions affected by hunting, fishing and agricultural rights, as well as United States and Indian relations in Native American History.

Chef Nephi Craig is currently the Executive Chef at the Sunrise Park Resort Hotel on the White Mountain Apache Tribe.