A starting point. When you come from a traumatic place spiritually, emotionally and physically only to enter another, the only changes are the characters in the play and characters are important. It is my responsibility to contribute to something I believe in and have been engaged in all my life, whether I knew it or not and that is food culture. I like to call it culinary culture because that is what the life of a professional cook is, a sub-culture of another culture. For us here on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, as cooks, we are a sub-culture of a sub-culture of a sub-culture (if that makes sense to you). Three-star Michelin Restaurants and Four Star Manhattan Restaurants are worlds away from us and our reality is very different. The food we produce is very different. It is interesting to me as the chef because I have been to many places in the world and have been in the presence of world renowned chefs and their brigades. All that is so far away right now, and as I type this entry, my culinary heros like Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Ferran Adria, Brad Thompson, Chris Olson, Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, Marco Pierre White and many others are still in this world working diligently at very high levels of cooking while respecting the time honored culinary traditions of the old world.
Knowing this is quite daunting when I think of what we are working toward achieving here in our humble kitchen. I have been in great kitchens and the very real fear-of-god-kitchen-pressure is an old friend of mine I haven't seen in a while. I try not to compare ourselves to any other kitchen and their culinary achievements because frankly, there is no other kitchen that I am aware of that has realized a starting point like we have...no other kitchen in the world has a team of Apaches working within the confines of the fundamental French culinary traditions that I, the chef, honor and respect. Principles developed by the great chefs of the world, principles handed down through the great culinary family tree that began in France with the first chefs that exalted themselves and their craft to what it has become today. Culinary principles honed, cherished and developed with pleasure and pain, success and failure, burns and scars....life and death is what I want my cooks to respect.
I am a cook devoted to learning about the culinary history of the world, a subject that is very deep and that reaches far into the human spirit and consciousness of all cultures in the world. There is nothing more sacred than food and as a person from an indigenous American culture, food and respect for the intimate link between heaven and earth that food provides, is a very real element of my life. I cant help but sounding like a romantic when I write about this topic, but really, can such a beautiful story about food and humanity be anything else? I am proud to be a part of this very real human story of fire and flesh...in all reality if you are reading this blog then you are sharing in this journey so you are a part of it too...
A cook's philosophy gradually evolves, just as it does for any other discipline. The deeper into the culinary history of the world, I have journeyed by research, eating and travel, it is apparent that I will never know all that I would like to about cookery. However, what I do know is that every culture witnessed a "culinary revolution" of sorts caused by a change in social, economic and political consciousness. Based on observation, I feel that we are experiencing, and have been for about a decade now, a culinary revolution in Native America among the indigenous. Although chefs are at the "mega-phone" to the public and outside world yes, there is much more to this amazing change in social consciousness as it relates to food. More time and research is devoted to food in an effort to combat social ills and disease in communities. Food is now used as a medium for teaching the actual history of indigenous American peoples in this country and the world. Native American Culinary Anthropology is now a real area of academic study. Methods of food production, aquaculture and agriculture are "Going Green" and I like to say they are simply, "Going Native" because they are ecologically sound, sustainable and based on seasonality and locality, just as indigenous peoples in the Americas have cultivated and eaten for thousands of years.
As a professional cook for the past twelve years years, I have seen the gradual change in food culture in Native American communities and it is exciting. I travel the world and the United States cooking and training and when I hear the buzz words, "Going Green, Organic, Sustainable", I smile and think of my ancestors who often lived to see a century in their lifetimes. I think of the intimate connection between heaven and earth that must have been realized thousands of years ago because of the practice of cultivating, preserving, sourcing and consuming food. I think of the immense culinary contributions indigenous American peoples have made to modern world cuisine as we know it today. Therefore, it only makes sense for us as cooks to realize this amazing potential, this humble yet profound starting point in Native American Cuisine.
Now when I say "starting point" in Native American Cuisine, don't get me wrong, there have been millions of indigenous people over hundreds of thousands of years that have made Native Foods what they are today. I am talking about a starting point for professional Native chefs and cooks. The powerful realization that we stand on the brink of a very important time in the culinary history of Native American people today. We have the potential to work diligently to develop our own interpretation of modern Native American Cuisine as we see it. This of course must be very respectful of the great culinary traditions of the world and the culinary traditions of Native Peoples in the Americas because without understanding the history and evolution of those respective cuisines, our efforts risk becoming "confused" and lacking a solid foundation. So, culinary theory, approach and philosophy is very important. It is just as much a intellectual and spiritual journey as it is a physical one...
Another very real fact of this "Native Food Revolution" is that it does not only concern chefs so this blog is not an attempt to "exalt ourselves" because the reality is that we as Natives(Apaches) are expected to be humble and appreciative when it comes to food. Also very important to remember that a culinary revolution like this begins in the home. It begins with what we choose to feed our children. It begins with the community group conscious and perception of agriculture, hunting, fishing and restaurants. The perception that "food is fuel" must be abandoned and a more intimate and involved approach to food must be developed for this important social change to bear fruit over the years.
"Apaches in the Kitchen" is a blog about our journey from the perspective of one chef and the consensus of my culinary team. We are working diligently and it is my responsibility to share this culinary perspective with my crew. We ARE doing important work. I have felt like and heard, many times, in my path as a cook that, "its just food." However, it is so much more than that and coming from the spiritual, emotional and physical recovery from a profound loss in my personal life with the death of my father, I know what is important to me as a chef and that is the human element of cookery and cuisine. My father loved humanity (food as well) and it is through experiencing loss do I know what is important....that is staying in a constant state of learning and contributing to the positive development of self, community and humanity. It is our responsibility to cook for our children while continuing to honor and practice the culinary traditions and attitudes of our own families, communities and nations that make us great.