Nation citizen Taelor Barton, who is the executive chef at
The Vault in Tulsa, Oklahoma, says she began taking a creative
role in cooking at age 13. She credits her grandmother, Cherokee
National Treasure Edith Knight, as having a "huge" part in
her becoming a chef. (photo by Stacie Guthrie - Cherokee Phoenix)
TULSA, OK Taelor Barton grew up watching her grandmother,
Edith Knight, cook. Those cooking sessions inspired Barton to become
a chef and share her talent in creating food.
chef Taelor Barton shapes a bean cake for a Native American-inspired
dinner party on April 19 at The Vault in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
(photo by Stacie Guthrie - Cherokee Phoenix)
"My grandma did indeed have a huge part in me choosing to be
a chef later on in life. It was something that we always did together,"
the 26-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen said. "I think it started
out as something to kind of keep me busy at first and then the more
skills that I would learn, especially when I was away from her,
I would come back and show her and then we'd cook together. Basically,
she used food to extend care to us as children. It was such an important
nurturing aspect of my upbringing that I couldn't let it go. I had
to kind of carry on in her stead, being a cook in the family."
Barton said she began taking a creative role in cooking at age
13. "Even though I didn't know much I still wanted to play with
food and see what I could make."
This love for cooking inspired Barton to study culinary arts
while in high school. She later attended the Oklahoma State University-Institute
of Technology's culinary program in Okmulgee.
She said even today taking on that creative role when she was
13 affects how she approaches food.
Barton is now the executive chef at The Vault in Tulsa, where
she showcases not only her cooking skills but also her heritage
with her food.
"I created about 50 percent of the dishes here. There's a set
number of non-signature items that I will innovate new (with) every
menu change," she said. "I also have brought to the table our cauliflower
wings and then a vegan dish, which is a stuffed acorn squash. Kind
of has a little bit of Native American influence with smoked vegetables.
It is a dish that appeals to meat eaters and vegans alike."
The Cherokee Phoenix caught up with Barton on April 18 as she
prepared Native-inspired dishes for a dinner at The Vault.
"It is going to have different stages of Native American cooking
involved. A lot of the stuff will have some sort of newer European
influence because of the settlers," she said. "There will be fry
bread because of the milled wheat. Also, I'm going to be using something
that was very dear to me, something my grandmother taught me how
to make was kanuchi."
Barton said she became interested in creating a Native American-inspired
menu while her grandmother was "fading in health."
"I realized that after she would pass I would lose, possibly,
a little bit of that Native American influence in my life. So I
wanted to take advantage of it still being fresh in my mind, the
things that she had taught me," she said. "I wanted to make her
proud, and I wanted to do it to bring honor to her."
Barton said her grandmother died in March 2016, which left her
wanting to honor Knight through cooking. Knight, who was a Cherokee
National Treasure for tear dressmaking, was also known for making
kanuchi, a traditional Cherokee meal made from hickory nuts.
Barton's goal for the April 19 dinner was to "generate" interest
in Native American cuisine.
"A lot of people have asked me before, "What is Native American
to you?" At first I drew a blank because it is a culture that is
not as mentioned every day like Italian cuisine. You know when a
pizza's Italian or spaghetti is somewhat Italian or a burger and
fries is American. But where would those cultures be without the
tomato, without corn. As I look more into it you realize that everything
that is American has Native American influence in that," she said.
Barton said she's offered Native dishes such as bean cakes,
wild onions and eggs and even kanuchi. She added that she wanted
to feature these Native-inspired dishes because she believes it's
important to share it with the Tulsa area.
"As for as close as we are to Indian Country, surprisingly very
little influence from the Native American cuisine is present in
restaurants in a popular area such as Tulsa," she said. "My aim
is to generate interest and bringing more Native American culture
back into the mainstream cooking."