Sunday, January 25, 2015

Indigenous Culinary Trade Routes and Carriers of Knowledge

Western Apache Cooking and Cuisine
Pre-Reservation term for this region where our kitchen is located: Dzilgha'a

On this pre-reservation map of place names, take a look at the portion on the right called 'Dzilgha'a' near Mt. Baldy. That is where our kitchen is located. These mountains are sacred to us since time immemorial. Our entire way of life reflects this landscape and on an even deeper level, before the concentration prison camp that is every "Indian Reservation" in America, this landscape holds a profound form of Ancestral Knowledge. What makes our landscape different from some reservations in the United States, is that we are on our Ancestral Homeland, we did experience some dislocation, relocation and assimilation from Western society, still much of our life ways that were reflective of the land remained intact. This knowledge remains in various carriers of memory.

The first group of carriers of memory are the plants. The indigenous flora of our homeland hold medicinal and culinary applications that are woven into our clan-system, relationships with bands and routs of trade. Clans are named after places where medicine and food plant relatives grow, or where they choose to live.

The second is the terrain. In Dzilgha'a we are at 10,000 feet with peaks that still rise above us to 12,000 feet and more. To the lower end of our territory on the east end to an elevation of 4000 ft. We have an amazing array of foods, animals and terrain that carry memory, that carry our identity for us.

Third is the people, or N'Dee that are also carriers of memory. We also embody knowledge that is carried in our DNA, a spiritual awareness that can be difficult to describe but it is there. Many people embody indigenous principles in different ways, some speak Apache fluently, others are genuinely happy to be cooking and grateful, others are filled with laughter and humor. Some are knowledgeable about the landscape and wild foods that would put trained botanist/linguist and master chefs to the ultimate test.

Dinetah aka Navajo Nation 
Embodiment of Indigeneity and awareness of what we carry with us, often without knowing, is a powerful element of our collective communities. My late-father is Dineh from the eastern part of the Navajo Nation or Dinetah. I grew up on both reservations and have keen memories of food, ceremony, life, loss and growth on and off the reservations.

I am Nd'ee and Dineh. My son, my brothers and our boys are sons of sacred mountains, as are all other White Mountain Apaches and Navajo...we are sons of sacred mountains. These towering ancient beings are keepers of knowledge and humble power. There is no other place on earth like this. Despite generations of heartbreak and trauma, our peoples are resilient. In our Dzilgha'a Kitchen we are focusing on the human aspect of food and cooking. When we are in an age where we are starving for knowledge of indigeneity and health, the landscape still holds those messages. The people are conduits for this knowledge. My favorite phrase I learned in sobriety and in adulthood is, "Wisdom Sits in Places" because embodiment requires much more than simply, "understanding", it requires actual footwork, actual journey and conscious choice to seek out lessons and wisdom. This does not come when we want it, but rather when the power/knowledge chooses an individual, that is what I believe. Wisdom Sits in Places and waits for you to be ready.

That being said, for chefs, "Wisdom Sits in Places" too. There is a culinary program out on the eastern agency of the Navajo Nation, in the very same town that my late-father is from, the same place where I climbed the sandstones, threw rocks at my brothers and picked crystals out of the ground in amazement. The same places where Stinkbug speaks, where Monsters dwell in wait, where the darkness brings coyotes and trickery. This is Crownpoint, New Mexico. I have a working relationship with the culinary program there and we invited chefs to come and be stagiers with us in our Dzilgha'a Kitchen in the spirit of community building and revitalizing trade routes. When people gather, specifically chefs, when we gather our senses collaborate and create memories. These memories are the intangible building blocks of cuisine and indigeneity. These memories are what we create from and carry with us until the end of our lives, speaking of experience and drawing inspiration after moments have past. The intangible become tangible, we create from memory and in the indigenous realm of cooking, just like in ceremony, gathering of people in humility is where growth happens.

Claudia Serrato
The Dineh Stagiers converged in our Dzilgha's Kitchen on January 1st through the 4th, 2015. We also had another guest with us for those same days. We had scholar, stagier and soon to be PhD Claudia Serrato with us in our kitchen. This was how we brought in the new year by celebrating and developing Indigenous foods as carriers/conduits of memory.

Claudia helped frame the experience and came to learn and to teach. She brought an indigenous skill set of observation and research methods to be employed while cooking with our Dineh and N'Dee chefs in this kitchen. Claudia helped to talk about the framework of mindfulness and sensitivity as we worked. She is studying the transfer of ancestral knowledge and helped us to better see how each chef embodies powerful knowledge that can be drawn on in our individual and collective practice as chefs. There is much to say about what Claudia brought to our kitchen that day and I will share a few images.

Claudia Serrato teaching in the Dzilgha'a Kitchen. 
Here is an image that is taken just before dinner service in our kitchen. Claudia prepared and taught us how to make Quinoa Water. Here is the Dineh Stagiers, our Apache chefs and our Apache Waitstaff listening to her brief lecture on the process. They are also anxiously waiting to sample two types of Quinoa Water because after all, this is "edible ancestral knowledge". Above the door beam is one of our kitchen credos, "Participate in your own evolution".

As Claudia prepared the quinoa water and I was setting up my station on the line, I noticed that the quinoa water produced a froth that held its form for minutes. As a chef, I am not a fan of the trendy foams, nor do I make them on purpose, but this quinoa water produced a clean white froth that I saw and I decided to plate this dish of 'Carrots and Quinoa".

Western Apache. Quinoa and Carrots.

This dish here is Sioux Maple syrup roasted baby carrot, carrot puree, a single turnip, toasted quinoa topped with the quinoa froth and garnished with carrot tops. This is a cold dish that is sweet and clean.

Our staff and stagiers enjoyed the quinoa water and we got back to service. As we were plating orders and the chefs were assisting us in the kitchen, we all talked and shared about food. We also prepared for the chef's table that they would observe the following day and at which Claudia would be a diner.

We talked about plate selection and intention. We talked about personalizing interpretation with indigenous foods and how we carry memory and embody culture.

Our kitchen days are long and intense. The following day our Apache culinary team and the Navajo chefs collaborated and produced my Chef's Table menu of 14 small courses. This was a plant based menu with only small portions of salmon and rabbit. As every Chef's Table goes, we are always too busy to take any photographs of the process but we did manage to capture a few images from a kitchen perspective and the diners took their own photos as well. Here are a few indigenous sensory collaborative dishes from that day on January 3, 2015.

Often our Chef's Table dishes are a mixture of Family Style for sharing and plated dishes. We celebrate artistry of plating but also familial sharing of food among diners. Her is a course by course description. The first two courses are not pictured. The next 12 photos were taken by my wife Jandi Craig.

Apache Fries, Smoked Jalapeno, Smoke, citrus and Chive

Traditional Apache Corn Bread or Nada'Ban. This is made all over the White Mountain Apache Tribe and enjoyed by all. This dish was served to be shared. Delicious. 

This is our Winter Vegetable Salad made with produce from our our local Apache Farm called, 'The People's Farm in Whiteriver AZ. Beets, Carrot, Kale, Parsnip, Turnip,  and Acid

This is our Dijizhii or Apache Beans and Preserved Summer Corn Soup. This is a very, very typical and traditional dish packed with umami notes because of the long simmer time and deep roasted/preserved corn flavor. This is Western Apache food that also made it into the August 2014 edition of Food and Wine Magazine. 

This is a tasting of Autumn Squash and a special kind called Gete-Okosomin Squash. The story goes that this cultivar was reintroduced from an 800 year old seed collection from the midwest tribes. I got a squash from another Native Chef and brought it home. It stayed in my home for months until I cut it open for this Chef's Table for the tasting menu and for the seeds. Here it is paired with our traditional Wild Apache tea from Bear Canyon in Whiteriver, Arizona.

Here we honor and acknowledge the Salmon People of the great Pacific Northwest with this tasting of Tribally Caught Nisqually Salmon from the Nisqually Nation. This was roasted on smoky cedar also from Nisqually and served with parsnip puree, Sun Choke and Smoked Fingerling Potatoes and heirloom beans. Also a small side of Three Sisters with Scarlet Runner Beans, Tepary Beans, Appaloosa Beans, Preserved/Fresh corn and Zucchini ribbons. Indigeneity 2015

This dish is one from Navajo Land. This is traditional Dineh Corn Mush with Stewed Rabbit, Celery, Pinon and Onion/chives. We captured Juniper smoke and placed a dome over and when the lid was removed it released the juniper smoke activating memory and instilling a sense of place.

Here is a side of Roasted Carrots, greens and seeds.

My great Grandfather Joseph Carly Ivans grew pears in the garden I played in as a kid. This is a dish that draws on that pleasant flavor of that time. Honey Poached Pear masked with sacred Amaranth, Roasted Pear Pearls, Raw Pear, Pinon Cream, Cranberries and Arizona honey. 

Here is a close up of a special dish influenced by our friends out in Hopi Land with ingredients from the Navajo Nation.

This is a delicious little shot of Watermelon Ice served with the dish. Happiness and clarity.

This is the second to last dish. This is Hopi influenced Blue Corn Fritters, with berry preserves, Pinon Whipped Cream, Frozen berries and raw berries, Amaranth and a Apache Trade Route Amaranth Chocolate Truffle mindful of the great trade routes from mesoAmerica to Western Apacheria where we are cooking right now. Ancestral Memory. 

Plating the dessert. Chef Craig, Chef Terri Ami, Chef Brian Tatsukawa, Chef Daryl Yellowhair
These dishes are the result of collective indigeneity and an example of what we carry with us. When we frame our work with Ancestral Knowledge and humility great things are possible. This is only the beginning of an exciting evolution...or a continuation of Indigenous Food Ways. Nothing that we do is new...the Ancestral Knowledge and principles of leadership are already in place. Our Plant, Animal, Medicine Food relatives have protected them for us. The Land, Plants, waters and animals are the profound teachers and carriers of identity.

Plating the final courses. Chefs Craig and Ami

Since time immemorial, "Wisdom Sits in Places" and cooking with a sense of place in our Dzilgha'a Kitchen is the continuation of our sophisticated Indigenous Food-ways. I am excited about the future of Indigenous Foods. In this age of conceptualization and reclamation of the intelligent Ancestral Food-ways that revolutionized the cooking and cuisines of the world, from Argentina to Alaska, we can stand strong with a sense of place and say with confidence that Indigenous Cuisine of Turtle Island is a Mother Cuisine.

This was an eventful and memorable Chef's Table, the first of the year. I have no doubt that this set the tone for the rest of 2015. Our work ethic, tenacity and courage to continue on this pathway will be strengthened by more collaboration and community building. We ended the Chef's Table with Apache Coffee and Chocolates. In pure spirit of resiliency, the seeds of the 800 year old Gete-Okosomin Squash were saved, just like the memories of sensory collaboration that we created during our time in our kitchen together. I am grateful for the resiliency, survivance and vitality of our indigenous cuisine. These humble foods tell an honest story of who we have been and who we are. Every moment is powerful. Life is a complete spiritual experience. Life is the ceremony. Stand Strong. Nurture our seeds. Tell our Children.

Gete-Okosomin Squash and Seeds. A Red Onion from our Apache Farm, 'The People's Farm', the hand written Chef's Table menu, notes from a doctorate and a handmade plate from over a decade ago. We are grateful. Western Apache Cooking and Cuisine in the Dzilgha'a Kitchen 2015. 

Thank you for supporting Indigenous Culinary Culture Building!
Dinetah Stagiers
Purhepecha Stagier Serrato
Apaches in the Kitchen
White Mountain Apache Tribe


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  2. Those look way good! I'd love some gete okosomin seeds. Care to share?