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 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 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!