Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Western Apache Cooking and Cuisine

Western Apache Cooking and Cuisine are not new terms. The food and cooking of our Apache people has sustained us for generations. Western Apache Cooking and Cuisine have continued to evolve throughout the generations from pre-colonization and era before the "Indian Reservation" borders that crossed our lands. The cooking evolved with violent military contact and the suppression of food-ways that are about a coexistence between people, land, waters and the entire universe.

Reconnecting with the landscape and activating ancestral knowledge is the strongest, most tangible pathway toward decolonization and a healthy return to indigeneity. We adapt and move forward, constantly. This is a timeless trait in our shared resiliency.

This is a brief description of our culinary evolution and how a kitchen forces people to change in a positive way. We have turned our work space into an exhibition kitchen. Here are images from the process.

The pictures speak volumes about our time together as Apaches in the Kitchen.

The Dzilgha'a Kitchen in 2009

These signs have been up for years. It is about understanding and belief. We always stress that 'Mise en Place' is not only physical, that it is also about mental organization or 'Mental Mise en Place'.

Empty Kitchen in 2010. People bring all kitchens to life.

An action shot when we were going full speed for dinner service and cooking for a Chef's Table in the background. The Chefs table will now be visible to guests that are entering the restaurant dining room entrance. 

Sous Chef Vincent Way aka Vinny, dusting before painting. Chef de partie Randall Cosen looks on. This image was taken a few weeks ago in 2014. 

Chef Randall Cosen carefully painting around our signage. Randal is transitioning to the saute station this year after working the meat station on the grill. His work ethic, demonstration and mise en place indicated that he was ready to change stations to learn more skills.

Chef Juwon Hendricks painting the area that used to be his station.
The Kitchen all taped and prepped for painting.  We did all this work ourselves. 

A delivery of epic proportions. Up until this point we have served thousands of meals with only a six (6) burner range that had no ovens. The procurement of this range changes everything...it even transforms the culinary team. 

Out of the box, onto the truck and into the building. David assists.

Randall, Juwon and David begin installation.

Building the shelf.

This is an early photo, but it is here to illustrate the tape that had been in place more than once over the years.

White Mountain Apache construction team begins. The red line indicates the location of the header.

The first cut to remove the dry wall. This was a structural cut to see what was in the wall. 

We uncover old unused outlets. No power. We cut and capped a water line with the permission of upper management and our Apache Fire Chief. This authorization took a few steps and days. Unforeseen obstacle that we got past.

The Team returns after we weld the line and continue the work.

Cutting the wall. This is from outside in the dining room. 

Construction continues.

December 2014

The window opens up for the first time.

My first look into the soon to be window, I realize how things are going to change. 

Process 2014

Apaches building this Kitchen

The first look with the finished frame from the inside. This was an amazing thing to see for the first time.

First look at the frame from the dining room entrance.

My reminder to support the exchange of knowledge from my collection.

Chef Nephi Craig and the finished frame. I removed the drop cloth and began the clean up. Many hours late into the night after the office work is done and the kitchen is quiet.
My wife Jandi took this image of me cleaning the kitchen solo.
Clean and almost ready. Signage to be placed back in a vantage point for all to see 'Perfection is a Direction, not an end'. Pots hang, and this kitchen rests. This kitchen has grown and trained so many indigenous chefs and it has also saved my life.

This is organic beauty. I am eternally grateful and ready to participate in our own evolution. The kitchen gods are pleased as we await tempered glass.

The tempered glass arrives days later and our Apache construction team make the installation while I take photos to document this important event.

The first look with the glass installed. Painters tape applied for finishing.

Progress not Perfection. Decolonization in process. Evolution in the moment. 

Sealing up before stain.

Closer and closer.

The construction team taking photos to report. As they take photos I talk with them and they are very proud of their work. They ask me about the menu and ask if there are good steaks, I gladly tell them, "Yes". I also tell them about our culinary team being all Apaches in the Kitchen, they visibly appreciate it saying they are proud to have been a part of this positive change in our humble kitchen.

Decolonization and Self-Determination live here. Dzilgha'a Kitchen 2014. 10,000 feet in our sacred mountains on the White Mountain Apache Tribe. We are grateful.

Photo from Feb. 15, 2014 the night of an important Chef's Table with a young stagier and member of our indigenous posterity. Left to right. Randall Cosen, Vincent Way, my son Ari Carter Craig, Myself (Nephi Craig) and Juwon Hendricks. 

Power. Purpose. Discipline. Technique. 

White Mountain Apache Culinary Team in 2013 when we cooked a five course dinner for 500 people for the Phoenix Indian Center at Talking Stick Resort in their massive banquet kitchens. Left to right: Stephanie Dosela, Nancy James, Juwon Hendricks, Vina Reidhead, Herman Skidmore, Chef Nephi Craig, Randall Cosen, Tamara Gatewood, Vincent Way
This would not have been possible with out these chefs. It is all about the team. 

White Mountain Apache Chefs at the 1st Annual ROOTS Conference in Huron, Ohio at the renown place of power called The Chef's Garden. It was such an honor to be here. The changes in our kitchen are justified. In my six, going on 7 years as head chef, the most important lesson I have learned in this kitchen on the White Mountain Apache Reservation has been resilient patience. 

White Mountain Apache Culinary Team

Western Apache Cooking and Cuisine continues to evolve and shape our lives. We hope that it inspires you and someday you will have the chance to join us at a Chef's Table. This is Decolonization in action. This is a deliberate return to Apache Principles of Leadership as we work to remain in our ancestral homelands while revitalizing the sacred relationship with the landscape and one another as Apaches in the Kitchen.

Thank you for supporting Native American Culinary Culture Building 2015!

White Mountain Apache Culinary Staff!

Chef Nephi Craig, NACA Chef Founder
Dzilgha'a Kitchen, December 16, 2014
11:20 pm after service

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Land Advocacy & Ancestral Memory
Food ways are important to me. Food ways are the language that I understand. I am not a fluent speaker of the N'Dee (Apache) or Dineh (navajo) languages. I am a fluent speaker in the language of the colonizer, English. Over time I have shed elements of its destructive potential through understanding the vocabulary of violence. My deliberate steps toward the vocabulary of affection have allowed me to become fluent or at least begin to understand another language--Food ways. In taking small steps to use our language in my cooking style, I have been shown elements of this profound conceptual universe that is still wide open and unknown to me. This unknown is an exciting frontier to me as a cook that searches for mental, emotional and intellectual nourishment. I am fortunate to be a chef that is mindful of oppression and keen to colonization, while cooking with decolonization in mind. The language of Food ways speaks to me and I listen...at times it is not easy because I too, live in this age of distraction, fast food and disease. 

Western Apache/English Dictionary
When sticking to what cultural protocol I know about food preparation and consumption, the western term 'Chef' is or has become today, a direct contradiction to what food and the preparation of food means to us in our indigenous homes and community. I struggle with this fact. I do my best to find balance with what the word 'chef' means in the colonial world that has been build up around us as indigenous peoples and what I understand from personal experience about indigenous cooks in my life. The commonality is humility, vitality and diligence...universal principles. I have been doing my best to allow my cooking to be a balance that is unapologetic about indigenous foods. I believe that in conceptualizing a cuisine in the shadows of colonialism, imperialism, capitalism and the many guises of self-government, at least I can allow the foods to be themselves in the hope that others hear/understand the language of Food ways. I enjoy the world of culinary arts, because it teaches me so much about the forces that animate my world as an indigenous person. Falsehoods of luxury built on the appropriation of indigenous food ways is the equivalent of imperial slumming and often comical from an indigenous person's perspective. 

Shared Resiliency
So this is the final frontier. The last life saving and life giving element of our indigenous vitality...Food ways. The culture of cuisine that we build as indigenous peoples of all demographics can be revitalized to reflect 'at-will' not 'at-risk'. I will not accommodate modernity in the pursuit of Ancestral Knowledge, because to do so would only aid and abet the final colonization and recolonization of Indigenous Food ways and Indigeneity. Decolonization is a right, not an intellectual privilege. Lets make it happen. Stand Strong. Perpetuate Good. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Culinary Culture Building and Routes of Trade

We are up against many elements as we push to develop Native American Cuisine. Even the term Native American Cuisine is too broad of a term. Foods and regions of the Americas are extremely diverse  and varied and to give an culinary observer a reference I often reference the gastronomic diversity of Asia and India and the ancient civilizations there. Indigenous Food-ways thrived among the people and complex trade routes that we revitalize through community building. 

In our region of the Americas, withing the borders of the United States, within the state of Arizona our was historically referred to as Apacheria...and more specifically our region in the White Mountain Apache Tribe is classified as Western Apacheria. To give an example of the diversity, right now in my kitchen I sit at 10,000 feet elevation surrounded by mixed conifer stands of Ponderosa Pine, Spruce, Oak and Aspen trees. Down at the western edge of the White Mountain Apache tribe at approximately 2000 feet it is in the desert regions of Arizona where there are an abundance of reptiles, cactus, agave, century plants and other wild desert flora. This image here speaks to our indigenous Apache resiliency over centuries of warfare and oppression in all forms.

Our indigenous neighbors to the east are the Zuni people, to the northwest is the Hopi, and farther northeast is the vast Dineh Nation. Before the reservation system was created these entire lands kept intricate routes of trade, commerce and exchange of technology and foodways. This diversity of hunting, agriculture and even fishing was the cultural currency of the time. Western Apache leaders were often chosen for their ability to feed their families and for intimate knowledge of the land's caloric and aquatic resources. The calorie rich landscape of our ancestors still exists, it is the value system based on a food/water based economy that has vanished during this age of fast food and disease...the vanishing of a food/water based value system has produced the violence and despondency in our indigenous communities.

We have in place intimate knowledge of our landscape when we live on our homelands. It is not just our elders that hold the keys to the past, granted their deep intimate lifelong indigenous experience, we as a new generation hold the keys of our indigeneity...our language, our clan system, our traditions and the landscape. These elements are the pieces of the cultural indigenous jig-saw puzzle that we as cooks are able to piece together with delicious and decolonized results. The culinary revitalization of our food-ways satisfies many dimensions of appetite. Imagine the hunger you might have felt early in life to know your culture. Recall the turmoil and fear of our youth coupled with the hunger to find a spiritual way of life that brings peace and security in our own adult sense of self. Imagine the deep desire to listen to your body and eat seasonally and how the simple act of planting or gathering and consuming wild foods satisfies not just the pallet but also a genetic, atomic and cosmic appetite within us all. 

Our Food-ways and Food system is Cosmic & Sacred.

Remember that if you are Native and have lifelong memories of indigeneity with your family, you have a supplemental form of intelligence/education. Your life experience as an indigenous person and cook is Ethnographic and your personal decisions to cook Native Foods at any level is Ethno-Poetry...meaning like music, art and ceremony it needs no interpretation...it just is. Ethnopoetics are simply experienced and that is exactly what we strive to accomplish when we cook...we want to provide and create an experience. 

So when our Grandmother prepares a traditional stew, roasted potatoes and frybread, she is providing an ethnographic and anthropological culinary experience that can not be found anywhere else on the planet. She is exercising her deep life knowledge of nurturing the body, mind and spirit...she is creating a masterful experience of edible Ancestral Knowledge and ethnopoetry. Grandmothers cooking is a culinary history lesson in cultural oppression, resiliency, humility and nurturing. When we grow up around that we have that experience as part of our culinary genetic and atomic memory. This is the supplemental culinary education that can never be taught in culinary schools or any other university...this is the power of the humble indigenous experience in our current Indigenous or Native American gastronomy as we develop it. Our food-ways need us...needs us to return to our homes and visit with our families that live on the rez. 
Indigenous Culinary Decolonization 

So in our efforts to "develop" and revitalize our food-ways as Native Chefs, I believe that we must shift our value system and discard the western gastronomic lens that we often view our own communities through. I know this is a difficult concept to understand, but make it simple I'll reference something you already know...its is cool because Decolonization is really like "taking the Red Pill and finding out how far the rabbit hole goes." 

When Culinary Decolonization is the Red Pill, we are understanding the Western Culinary Traditions that we may learn in western institutions and culinary school or on television, but we make a conscious decision to shift our value system to a lens of humility and clarity. This is often scary because it challenges the established notion of "cuisine" and strikes at the heart of culinary imperialism and colonization. The choice to delve into our gastronomic indigeneity and listen to the sacred atoms that speak to us in prayer and give us chills when we hear our own truths is where the power is at. There is little to no power in seeking the Western Validation of our own indigenous food-ways, but rather indigenous epistemology is validating western science/medicine. 

Remember that Colonialism has an appetite too..."colonialism has a vicious appetite for violence and oppression." Indigenous Foods and methodologies to not feed colonialism, they starve it....the wholesome and generous spirit of native food-ways are the antidote to violence and fear at the most intimate level...at home and within ourselves.

Lets shift our value system from the lucrative notions of property, power and prestige that is what dominant culinary culture is about right now. Lets stay ahead of the curve and utilize indigenous foods to satisfy the forgotten dimensions of appetite and strengthen our emotional intelligence in our kitchens and homes. In this shifting of value to our Ancestral Knowledge and each other, we Apaches in the Kitchen are accepting interns and stagiers and if you have taken the time to read this far into my post, we want the young culinary student, the established cook and the chef to reach out to us and engage in community building. It will be the working relationships that will be the most important developments in indigenous food ways, because I dont know about you, but my kitchen is old, beat up, in need of repair and equipment BUT our most prized and valuable pieces of the kitchen are 'The People'. Even our cultural self-descriptions in the Apache language speak to this truth...the terms "N'Dee" in Apache and "Dineh" in Navajo both mean 'The People'. 

Both pre-Reservation terms, N'Dee and Dineh, that we have called ourselves since time-immemorial speak to the ingelligent nature of our value system. If we want to break it down into western terms that are less than 100 years old, we could call that "Industrial Psychology", where essentially it is building people BEFORE building capital/resources in a business...that is nothing new to our indigeneity and our very language holds keys to the emotional intelligence that is still with us. Ancestral Knowledge.

Dineh stagier, Daryl Yellowhair in white with Apaches in the kitchen. 
We recently had Dineh Stagiers come and be with us in Dzil'gha'a, in the area in the map above where our kitchen is at Sunrise Park Resort. These Dineh stagiers came with a determined spirit to learn and see our common indigenous reality. We shared that our reality in our kitchen is not a glamorous one, that we make it happen with what we have. We wanted to share that the most powerful element in indigenous foods is the sharing and individual articulation of the gastronomic experience. The Navajo men came from Crownpoint, New Mexico on the eastern agency of vast Dinetah (navajoland) to cook with us for an event for the Apache youth where we prepared healthful interpretations of indigenous foods.

In looking within for inspiration and development we reach out to each other and exercise our Shared Resiliency in cooking. This is a great stride forward that chefs in training want to come and be with us to stage. We open our doors for the sake of Community Building through cuisine...we call it Native American Culinary Culture Building, taking principles of community building.
Left to right: Stagier Darin Joe, Chef Nephi Craig, Randal Cosen, Juwon Hendricks, Vincent Way. Stagier Daryl Yellowhair can not be seen but is right behind me.

Dineh Stagier: Darin Joe
Participant Observation: Dineh Stagier Daryl Yellowhair 

We are on a pathway of inter-tribal development to revitalize the complex and ancient Trade Routes of the American Southwest and our revitalization is through Native American Cuisine. Our belief is that by making our culinary development relevant and attainable at the grassroots level, this is what will promote change. Creating the opportunity to offer stagier positions in a Native Kitchen is mind blowing considering that 75-100 years ago there were severe penalties for even talking like this. I could have benefited from greatly 16 years ago when I was a young line cook by staging with other Native Chefs, that is why we open the doors. So in the spirit of reciprocity and social recovery, we honor the phrase, "We cannot keep what we have unless we give it away." 

This is a life long continual culinary evolution. Sure there are many great kitchens to stage in, and we encourage you to seek them out in your path to understand, "the riddle of steel" that is a line-cook's life. Know that we, Apaches in the Kitchen, are out there and you are welcome to come with a sense of respect and humility to our ancestral homeland to stage, please understand that your are in our home. Leave the western lens at the border of the Rez and bring a sense of diligence and understanding, while building community and revitalizing our ancient, sophisticated life blood that is our Trade Routes.  

Trade Route to our Dzilgha'a Kitchen 

"Food and cooking are the tools, Ancestral Knowledge is the technology."

Than you for supporting Native American Culinary Culture Building 2014!