Native American Heritage Month is winding down. Combined with Thanksgiving, November is a month where education, reconciliation, and, hopefully, a wider understanding of Indigenous life in the Americas comes into focus.
To round out the month, we thought we’d compile a list of the Indigenous chefs who deserve a contestant role in a show like Netflix’s The Final Table or Bravo’s Top Chef. These are the chefs who are redefining what American, Mexican, Canadian, and even Hawaiian foods taste and look like. These are the Indigenous Americans who are reconciling centuries of genocide and cultural extermination through food sovereignty. They deserve mainstream attention.
What excites us about this food movement is that it’s bringing new flavors, textures, ideas, ingredients, and histories, to the table along with young cooks, farmers, and whole communities that are far-too-often ignored. The conversation springing out of this food movement (don’t dare call it a trend) centers on what and who America was, is, and can be. There’s hope here. One day, when the world looks at America and asks, “what is true American food?” they won’t just think of Italian pizzas or German hot dogs and burgers or French pastries. They’ll also think of smoked ducks served with blue corn tamales or braised venison tacos with sumac. The great Pacific Northwest salmon fires and underground elk roasts will come to mind. The bison will, once again, reign supreme.
This may well be the most exciting time to eat food in America in the past 300 years. The future of what we call American cuisine is firmly rooted in an almost-lost past. If a food show want’s to be truly progressive, they’ll race to add one of these chefs to their next season.
Neftalí Durán — Oaxaqueño
Chef Neftalí Durán was born in Oaxaca, Mexico. The entire region has a deeply-rooted heritage of Indigenous American cuisines that still shine brightly through the Euro-Mexican food scene. Durán relocated to Massachusetts where he focuses his work on educating and advocating for Indigenous foods and food equality. He works closely with HEAL Food Alliance, No Kid Hungry, CookingMatters, and is a co-founder of the Indigenous food movement iCollective.
Advocacy aside, Durán is also a killer in the kitchen. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian named him “Native American Chef of the Year” in 2015. His food is a brilliant combination of classic dishes we know — think tacos — combined with an eye on foraging, Indigenous foodways, and absolute beauty on the plate.