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