Monday, September 26, 2011

Sense of Direction

Native American Cuisine is a term that is too broad for what I/we have been trying to achieve. Although it is applicable to where we are at collectively as professional Native American cooks and chefs, but where we are situated on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation in Northeastern Arizona another term is needed. I have been brainstorming in an effort to "define" what and who our cooking represents and three terms come to mind right away.

Apache Cuisine- "The cooking and culinary traditions of the Apache people."  (To me, this sounds generic and a little bit too "Hollywood" for my personal liking. It is also nearly as broad as "Native American Cuisine" because of the number of different bands of Apache people.)

Western Apache Cuisine- The cooking and culinary traditions of the various bands of Apache bands in the western United States. This sounds good but is still very broad, although the bands of Apache share similarities, I'm sure there are major culinary differences when it comes to the ritual of obtaining, preparing and consuming food.

White Mountain Apache Cuisine- A cuisine which is heavily dictated by the seasons, wild flora and fauna. There is a heavy reliance on beef as a result of local Apache cattle associations. This form of cooking is more isolated and is rooted in outdoor cookery, raiding, hunting, fishing, and foraging. Agriculture is seasonal also. This cuisine is heavily influenced by the concept of "Raiding" in history. For example, today an "outside culinary raiding campaign" could be considered an individual or group effort to obtain new foods, ideas, technology and concepts that are acceptable/desirable from the non-Apache world.

These terms are how I would explain or define cuisine if asked about the cuisine of my people. The third term fits us best. It is still open to amendment and development but it sounds right. It is important to note that not all people label our foods in this way and I think and write from a chef's perspective and this is what I feel describes our micro-region. White Mountain Apache Cuisine can only be produced in this region. It may be reproduced in other areas of the world, but in my opinion it must be created here in the White Mountains and prepared by White Mountain Apaches. That is exactly what we are doing today.

Now with a rough outline of our cuisine, we can operate and move our culinary team in a direction with principles. Much of the professional terminology is new to the crew, but they have been utilizing and engaging cooking techniques which the terminology describes for years. I see the importance of categorizing ourselves in cuisine. The development of a cultural identity in cuisine and professional cookery is very important to me and that importance will be shared on a regular basis with the our staff. The reinforcement of cultural culinary development with "the bigger picture" in mind is very important because without a realistic vision and culinary foresight, we would be operating or cooking without a sense of direction.

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