Food: Oglala Lakota Chef Serves Pre-Colonization Menu
Before there was fry bread, there were sage, white pine, chokecherries
and wild buffalo.
Before Europeans unloaded wheat and sugar cane and introduced
beef to Turtle Island, Natives hunted and fished. They planted potatoes,
squash and corn, and they flavored their food with purslane, rose
hips and dandelion.
That traditional diet, or what Chef Sean Sherman calls the "pre-colonization
diet," is the bedrock for a new restaurant set to open this fall
in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. Sherman, who is Oglala Lakota,
plans to use only indigenous foods in the restaurant, which he has
appropriately named The Sioux Chef.
"I'm not using any European ingredients," he said. "Everyone
knows what meat was here, but I was interested in the other thingshow
they dried corn and squash; how they ground things into flour; and
all the beans, berries, wildflowers and tree fruits. There are plenty
of flavors to play with."
Sherman, 40, was born in Pine Ridge and learned some of the
traditional ways of preparing and preserving food from his grandfather.
His great-grandfather fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn,
he said, so his grandfather was among the first generation of Lakota
to live on the reservation and attend mission schools.
"My family knows what was growing on the prairies," Sherman
said. "When I have a big pot of chokecherries or buffalo simmering
on the stove, or when I'm out there picking things from the forests
or prairies, it's definitely nostalgic. When I'm out there gathering
sage, all those flavors bring back memories."
Sherman started working in restaurants at age 13 and continued
while studying business at Black Hills State College, in Spearfish,
South Dakota. After college, he moved to Minneapolis, where he pursued
a serious culinary career, eventually becoming a chef at age 28.
Sherman was sought after by restaurant owners who wanted a redesign
or "rebranding" of existing kitchens, said Jael Kampfe, Sherman's
stepmother and owner of a working guest ranch in Montana. Several
years ago, Kampfe hired Sherman to create a new menu and dining
experience for clients.
"What I really love about what he is doing is the relationship
he creates between food and culture," Kampfe said. "Food is his
central focus and he creates everything around it."
Always drawn to local, organic foods, Sherman quickly found
a niche working directly with farmers and ranchers to put quality,
fresh meals on restaurant tables. He studied indigenous ingredients
in Spain and Mexico, establishing communities around locally produced
food and a return to regions' indigenous flavors.
When it came to preparing foods native to his own people, Sherman
found he had to do a lot of research. Many tribes cite fry bread
as part of the traditional diet, he said, but he needed to dig deeper
into the past.
"I realized there wasn't a lot of information out there in terms
of how to process foods or what they really ate," he said. "I spent
a long time studying wild foods. I talked to people and got oral
stories. A lot of it had to come from history books and other accounts
of how things were."
His studies took him to reservations in Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota,
Wisconsin and the Dakotas, and resulted in dishes like smoked turkey
wasna, mixed berry wojapi, wild rice flatbread and grilled duck.
Sherman, who often does food demonstrations or hosts discussions
about healthy eating, decided earlier this year that he wanted to
open a restaurant and serve traditional Lakota and Ojibwe foods.
He's now catering in the Twin Cities area and plans to open that
restaurant by Decemberonce he finds the right space.
When The Sioux Chef opens, patrons can expect a fine dining
experience that will appeal to simple and sophisticated palates.
Sherman, who is equally comfortable picking berries in the woods
and serving five- or six-course meals to black-tie guests, plans
to use his restaurant to blend modern cooking techniques with traditional
"It's really a family-style concept of dining, but with pre-colonial
foods," he said. "My goal is to let the dishes speak for themselves."
According to Kampfe, the restaurant couldn't open at a more
"This is really vital for the future of culture," she said.
"We have all this talk about revitalization of language or ceremonies,
but there's not enough talk about revitalizing food."