Chef Sean Sherman Promotes Indigenous Foods

Posted by on Nov 16, 2023 in People and Culture, Stuff You Should Know

Award-winning chef Sean Sherman has earned a reputation as an innovator by promoting Indigenous foods. For Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe, that means cooking with ingredients that are native and naturally found throughout North America. Sherman does not use ingredients such as beef, pork, chicken, wheat flour, dairy, and cane sugar. These foods were brought to North America by European colonists.  

Instead, Sherman cooks with Indigenous ingredients like squash, wild rice, corn, sweet potato, white fish, duck, and bison. Sherman does not create traditional Native American dishes but rather uses native ingredients to make modern recipes.  

Sherman’s Path to Celebrity Chef 

Sherman grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He began working in the restaurant industry as a teenager. Sherman became a professional chef and learned to cook several different types of European dishes. When traveling in Mexico, however, he saw people cooking with Indigenous ingredients using traditional techniques. He researched the Indigenous foods of North America and then decided to use Indigenous ingredients in his recipes. Sherman describes his style of Indigenous cooking as “decolonized.”  

Sherman is the author of a 2017 cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. This title is a play on words of sous-chef. A sous-chef runs a restaurant kitchen under the direction of the head chef. The book won the 2018 James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook. He now co-owns Owamni, an Indigenous restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Chef Sherman has won several prestigious awards. He was included as one of Time Magazine’s The 100 Most Influential People of 2023. In 2022 he was awarded the ninth annual Julia Child Award. Julia Child was a famous female chef and television personality who taught people how to cook with French techniques and flavors. 

Advantages of Cooking with Indigenous Foods 

When Sherman was young, much of the food that his family ate was distributed by the U.S. government. The food was often unhealthy. Foods included canned meat, powdered milk, and blocks of processed cheese. Sherman promotes the use of Indigenous foods because he views them as healthy and natural alternatives to much of the food available to Americans. One of the challenges of cooking Indigenous dishes, however, is that recipes must be changed slightly based on the types of ingredients that are available regionally and seasonally.   

Promotion of Indigenous Foods 

Sherman started a company, The Sioux Chef, to promote the use of Indigenous foods. He also created the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NĀTIFS). The goal of NĀTIFS is to encourage and promote the production and use of Indigenous foods.  

One of the main projects of NĀTIFS is the Indigenous Food Lab Market (IFL Market) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The IFL Market is a kitchen and market that offers Indigenous foods. Sherman hopes to open IFL Markets at additional locations throughout North America. NĀTIFS also partners with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Together, they encourage the use of traditional foods and offer healthful tips for Native Americans.  

Dig Deeper Research what Indigenous ingredients are available in your area throughout the year.