Pre-Reservation term for this region where our kitchen is located: Dzilgha'a
The first group of carriers of memory are the plants. The indigenous flora of our homeland hold medicinal and culinary applications that are woven into our clan-system, relationships with bands and routs of trade. Clans are named after places where medicine and food plant relatives grow, or where they choose to live.
The second is the terrain. In Dzilgha'a we are at 10,000 feet with peaks that still rise above us to 12,000 feet and more. To the lower end of our territory on the east end to an elevation of 4000 ft. We have an amazing array of foods, animals and terrain that carry memory, that carry our identity for us.
Third is the people, or N'Dee that are also carriers of memory. We also embody knowledge that is carried in our DNA, a spiritual awareness that can be difficult to describe but it is there. Many people embody indigenous principles in different ways, some speak Apache fluently, others are genuinely happy to be cooking and grateful, others are filled with laughter and humor. Some are knowledgeable about the landscape and wild foods that would put trained botanist/linguist and master chefs to the ultimate test.
|Dinetah aka Navajo Nation|
I am Nd'ee and Dineh. My son, my brothers and our boys are sons of sacred mountains, as are all other White Mountain Apaches and Navajo...we are sons of sacred mountains. These towering ancient beings are keepers of knowledge and humble power. There is no other place on earth like this. Despite generations of heartbreak and trauma, our peoples are resilient. In our Dzilgha'a Kitchen we are focusing on the human aspect of food and cooking. When we are in an age where we are starving for knowledge of indigeneity and health, the landscape still holds those messages. The people are conduits for this knowledge. My favorite phrase I learned in sobriety and in adulthood is, "Wisdom Sits in Places" because embodiment requires much more than simply, "understanding", it requires actual footwork, actual journey and conscious choice to seek out lessons and wisdom. This does not come when we want it, but rather when the power/knowledge chooses an individual, that is what I believe. Wisdom Sits in Places and waits for you to be ready.
That being said, for chefs, "Wisdom Sits in Places" too. There is a culinary program out on the eastern agency of the Navajo Nation, in the very same town that my late-father is from, the same place where I climbed the sandstones, threw rocks at my brothers and picked crystals out of the ground in amazement. The same places where Stinkbug speaks, where Monsters dwell in wait, where the darkness brings coyotes and trickery. This is Crownpoint, New Mexico. I have a working relationship with the culinary program there and we invited chefs to come and be stagiers with us in our Dzilgha'a Kitchen in the spirit of community building and revitalizing trade routes. When people gather, specifically chefs, when we gather our senses collaborate and create memories. These memories are the intangible building blocks of cuisine and indigeneity. These memories are what we create from and carry with us until the end of our lives, speaking of experience and drawing inspiration after moments have past. The intangible become tangible, we create from memory and in the indigenous realm of cooking, just like in ceremony, gathering of people in humility is where growth happens.
Claudia helped frame the experience and came to learn and to teach. She brought an indigenous skill set of observation and research methods to be employed while cooking with our Dineh and N'Dee chefs in this kitchen. Claudia helped to talk about the framework of mindfulness and sensitivity as we worked. She is studying the transfer of ancestral knowledge and helped us to better see how each chef embodies powerful knowledge that can be drawn on in our individual and collective practice as chefs. There is much to say about what Claudia brought to our kitchen that day and I will share a few images.
|Claudia Serrato teaching in the Dzilgha'a Kitchen.|
As Claudia prepared the quinoa water and I was setting up my station on the line, I noticed that the quinoa water produced a froth that held its form for minutes. As a chef, I am not a fan of the trendy foams, nor do I make them on purpose, but this quinoa water produced a clean white froth that I saw and I decided to plate this dish of 'Carrots and Quinoa".
|Western Apache. Quinoa and Carrots.|
This dish here is Sioux Maple syrup roasted baby carrot, carrot puree, a single turnip, toasted quinoa topped with the quinoa froth and garnished with carrot tops. This is a cold dish that is sweet and clean.
Our staff and stagiers enjoyed the quinoa water and we got back to service. As we were plating orders and the chefs were assisting us in the kitchen, we all talked and shared about food. We also prepared for the chef's table that they would observe the following day and at which Claudia would be a diner.
We talked about plate selection and intention. We talked about personalizing interpretation with indigenous foods and how we carry memory and embody culture.
Our kitchen days are long and intense. The following day our Apache culinary team and the Navajo chefs collaborated and produced my Chef's Table menu of 14 small courses. This was a plant based menu with only small portions of salmon and rabbit. As every Chef's Table goes, we are always too busy to take any photographs of the process but we did manage to capture a few images from a kitchen perspective and the diners took their own photos as well. Here are a few indigenous sensory collaborative dishes from that day on January 3, 2015.
Often our Chef's Table dishes are a mixture of Family Style for sharing and plated dishes. We celebrate artistry of plating but also familial sharing of food among diners. Her is a course by course description. The first two courses are not pictured. The next 12 photos were taken by my wife Jandi Craig.
|Apache Fries, Smoked Jalapeno, Smoke, citrus and Chive|
|Traditional Apache Corn Bread or Nada'Ban. This is made all over the White Mountain Apache Tribe and enjoyed by all. This dish was served to be shared. Delicious.|
|This is our Winter Vegetable Salad made with produce from our our local Apache Farm called, 'The People's Farm in Whiteriver AZ. Beets, Carrot, Kale, Parsnip, Turnip, and Acid|
|Here is a side of Roasted Carrots, greens and seeds.|
|Here is a close up of a special dish influenced by our friends out in Hopi Land with ingredients from the Navajo Nation.|
|This is a delicious little shot of Watermelon Ice served with the dish. Happiness and clarity.|
|Plating the dessert. Chef Craig, Chef Terri Ami, Chef Brian Tatsukawa, Chef Daryl Yellowhair|
|Plating the final courses. Chefs Craig and Ami|
Since time immemorial, "Wisdom Sits in Places" and cooking with a sense of place in our Dzilgha'a Kitchen is the continuation of our sophisticated Indigenous Food-ways. I am excited about the future of Indigenous Foods. In this age of conceptualization and reclamation of the intelligent Ancestral Food-ways that revolutionized the cooking and cuisines of the world, from Argentina to Alaska, we can stand strong with a sense of place and say with confidence that Indigenous Cuisine of Turtle Island is a Mother Cuisine.
This was an eventful and memorable Chef's Table, the first of the year. I have no doubt that this set the tone for the rest of 2015. Our work ethic, tenacity and courage to continue on this pathway will be strengthened by more collaboration and community building. We ended the Chef's Table with Apache Coffee and Chocolates. In pure spirit of resiliency, the seeds of the 800 year old Gete-Okosomin Squash were saved, just like the memories of sensory collaboration that we created during our time in our kitchen together. I am grateful for the resiliency, survivance and vitality of our indigenous cuisine. These humble foods tell an honest story of who we have been and who we are. Every moment is powerful. Life is a complete spiritual experience. Life is the ceremony. Stand Strong. Nurture our seeds. Tell our Children.
Thank you for supporting Indigenous Culinary Culture Building!
Purhepecha Stagier Serrato
Apaches in the Kitchen
White Mountain Apache Tribe