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The Sioux Chef is getting a restaurant, a cookbook, and maybe a TV series

Sean Sherman poses in front of Tatanka Truck, owned by Little Earth Community of United Tribes.

Sean Sherman poses in front of Tatanka Truck, owned by Little Earth Community of United Tribes. AP Photo/Amy Forliti

Sean Sherman wasn’t always the Sioux Chef.

Though he is Oglala Lakota and grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and though he worked as a chef in a number of Twin Cities restaurants, he didn’t start out with a focus on cooking Native foods.

Then he moved to San Pancho, Mexico, where he encountered an indigenous tribe, the Huichol. They maintain their own language, art, religion, and cuisine. It was then that he realized he had to start studying and cooking his own Native cuisine, back in the Midwest.

“An epiphany moment is the only way of describing it,” he says.

Epiphany or no, he had trouble finding anything to study about Lakota foods. All the cookbooks he could find were European food with perhaps a little Native sprinkled in. Wild rice casserole was not what he had in mind.

The reasons are brutal, yet obvious. Most North American Native culture has been obliterated by centuries of oppression and genocide. Much of the historical information -- hunting and gathering techniques, agricultural systems, food preservation methods -- has been lost to history. If Sherman wanted this information, he was going to have to become a scholar in the subject.

That’s what he did. And after years of research and swiftly raising $148,728 of a $100,000 Kickstarter goal, Sherman is now in search of the perfect location for his restaurant, Sioux Chef/Indigenous Kitchen. Because this isn’t any old restaurant, the search is not an easy one, but he’s confident they can find it within six to 12 months.
 

Sherman’s restaurant will source and cook indigenous foods, such as squashes, corns, beans, melons, seeds, sunflower, and hazelnuts. Luckily, Minnesota does have some existing indigenous vendors including Dream of Wild Health, a native-owned, native-grown farm; Wozupi Tribal Gardens, owned and operated by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and others.

Naturally, growing produce on site at the restaurant will also be a huge part of the Indigenous Kitchen model. Sherman hopes every kitchen employee will spend at least one day farming and foraging.

“Our culture is so disconnected. You don’t need to know how to grow a vegetable or process a protein,” he says. At Sioux Chef, you’ll have to know.

Sherman also wants to minimize the restaurant’s reliance on petroleum by cooking on woodfire as often as possible. However, he’s careful to point out that the project is meant to allow Native Americans to “modernize” their own cuisines, in the same way that the rest of the world’s cultures have been able to do so. If you look at Sherman’s presentations, they often look as much like modernist cuisine as anything. And why shouldn’t they?

While the first phase of the project will start with foods of the Dakota and Ojibwa here in Minnesota, Sherman sees an opportunity to teach methods of gathering and cooking indigenous cuisine to tribal cultures all over North America. He envisions “training centers” for this kind of cooking, rich in vegetables, legumes, good fats, and grains. “[It’s] everything that Paleo is trying to be and more,” he says.

If opening a new restaurant doesn’t seem like quite enough, Sherman is also working on a cookbook in collaboration with cookbook writer and food personality Beth Dooley. And, no, that’s not all. Sherman and his partner Dana Thompson have several television networks interested in a potential series. He says they’re “carefully considering” their options. “We almost have too much opportunity.”

Watch for Sioux Chef, an Indigenous Kitchen sometime in 2017. Keep an eye on their happenings, food truck wanderings, events, and cookbook launch information at sioux-chef.com.