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‘Top Chef’ Needs To Invite One Of These Indigenous Chefs On Their Show


Brit Reed/Cezin Nottaway/Rich Francis/Hilel Echo Hawk

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.

Cezin Nottaway — Anishinabe

Marie-Cecile “Cezin” Nottaway is redefining the way we think about Northeastern cuisine. Chef Nottaway embraces nature in every dish she creates. Foraging, hunting, fishing, and outdoor cooking are the cornerstones of her cuisine in ways that elevate every aspect of those practices.

Chef Nottaway runs a catering company called Wawatay Catering. The name honors the Northern Lights and the Algonquin belief that the lights are our ancestors guiding us today. The menus Nottaway creates embrace the wild food found in the forests, lakes, and rivers of the Quebec interior. A meal with Chef Nottaway will take you on a textural and flavor journey that is purely North American.

Quentin Glabus — Frog Lake Cree First Nation

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AAHAR international Food Fair, Canadian Pavilion.

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Chef Quentin Glabus is a globetrotting chef who’s cooked from Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro while representing Indigenous cuisine from the Americas. Chef Glabus’ food has become the cultural touchstone around the world for what Indigenous cuisine from Canada ought to taste like. He’s worked with culinary groups throughout the world teaching and learning, making for an amazing chef.

This is elevated cuisine that takes well-known dishes to wholly new heights. Chef Glabus’ duck confit and wild rice “soba” noodle soup ask questions that we’ve never been able to ask before about what Indigenous cuisine might have been had it not been cut short by colonialism. How would it have developed? What influences would it have taken on?

These are ideas and flavors that feel hugely important. That makes Glabus a must-follow.

Hillel Echo-Hawk — Pawnee and Athabaskan

Chef Hillel Echo-Hawk just started Birch Basket Catering up in Seattle. The young chef is also a member of iCollective and works tirelessly with that crew to educate and innovate in the world of Indigenous cuisine. For Chef Echo-Hawk, the life of an Indigenous chef isn’t just about the food. It’s about taking a stand while fighting for food, racial, and gender sovereignty.

Chef Echo-Hawk’s food shines through the lens of her heritage and location. Seattle’s abundance of wild foods — from the land and sea — help inform her marvelous dishes. Plates of gorgeous salmon pop next to plates of clams with squash, duck, sumac, mole, and wild rice. What’s beautiful about these dishes is that they’re inherently familiar but wholly reimagined through an Indigenous POV.

M. Karlos Baca — Tewa/Diné/Nuche

Calling M. Karlos Baca just a chef seems a bit unfair. He wears a lot of hats as one of the central figures in the entire Indigenous food movement. He’s a co-founder of the iCollective and founded the food activist group of Taste of Native Cuisine. Karlos Baca also spends serious time teaching traditional foraging practices, the nuances of Indigenous agriculture, seed preservation, and the decolonization of our food systems in Tribal communities and schools across the country.

Then, of course, there’s the food. Chef Karlos Baca has a keen eye for creating. He’s taking old foods and remixing hem through a modern lens. His Instagram is flush with photos of beautiful dishes. Blue corn desserts, roasted cactus paddles, and marvelously stuffed New Mexico quail all fill his feed. These are the recipes that are going to come to define American Cuisine going forward.

Daniel Anthony — Hawaiian

There’s a deep spirituality in the Aloha culture of Hawai’i. It’s intoxicating. It’s doesn’t hurt that the islands also feel like paradise. All of that being said, what constitutes “Hawaiian Cuisine” is often deeply muddled by Asian and European migrant influences and the old ways of the Indigenous Polynesian community gets a short shrift, at best. Daniel Anthony has devoted his life to changing that mentality.

Anthony is at the forefront of bringing back the old arts of the taro root, alongside Indigenous Hawaiian cuisine and farming practices. Anthony’s love is paiai and poi, the paste made from pounding taro to varying consistencies. It’s massively nutritious — some would call it a Polynesian superfood — and it’s goddamn delicious when done by a Hawaiian master like Anthony. Following Anthony on Instagram will give you a glimpse into a food world re-emerging from the shadow of colonialism with a screensaver-worthy backdrop.

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#lab #curd #poi #papaya all home grown

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Brit Reed — Choctaw

Chef Brit Reed wanted to change the world… so she’s doing it. Right now. Reed is one of the most innovative chefs in America. She also founded Food Sovereignty is Tribal Sovereignty, which works to create positive change in health and food access in tribal communities. She works closely with the Tulalip Health Clinic’s Diabetes Program, where she cooks and teaches healthy food techniques rooted in Indigenous foodways.

It’s amazing all that Chef Reed is able to accomplish with only 24-hours in a single day. Based in Seattle, she combines the bounty of Washington State’s forests, sea, mountains, and vast agriculture to create food that transcends. Her dishes shine in ways that are both aesthetically dramatic and highly accessible. She’s making food for the for the people while re-examining what the food of the Indigenous American South was and will be again.

Rich Francis — Tetlit Gwich’in and Tuscarora Nations

Chef Rich Francis is a star. Chef Francis’ food got him to the final round of Top Chef Canada. Since then, he’s been an outspoken advocate of wild foods and Indigenous cuisine. Now, Francis is helping create an understanding between those who want to stop Indigenous Americans from celebrating and eating their own foods — seal, elk, moose, and more — by decolonizing those thoughts in a way that offers reconciliation and healing.

Chef Francis’ food is a technicolor dream rendered on planks, plates, and in fires. Francis embraces the foodways of his ancestors and brings those practices in the 21st century in a way that’s bold and delicious. Every dish is a testament to Indigenous resilience and ingenuity.

Brian Yazzie — Diné

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Photo credit: @dan.cornelius

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Diné Chef Brian Yazzie will be a household name one day very soon. Yazzie is the sort of talent who’ll end up on Top Chef and literally change everything. He’s an activist who devotes his life to teaching his fellow Diné and Indigenous folks about cooking, seed preservation, gardening, foraging, and health. Yazzie travels the country (and the world) talking, cooking, listening, learning, and being all around awesome.

Yazzie’s food creates a bridge of knowledge and hope to the Diné world of the American Southwest. His recipes from home feel familiar — tamales, tacos, and pozoles. We know these foods through the guise of “Mexican” food. We forget that that distinction is a made up line in the dirt which colonizers use (to this day) to separate Indigenous people, cultures, and foods in the Americas. Yazzie’s bison blue corn tamales or braised venison tacos or green chili turkey pozole are a reminder that made up borders are in our head. That, in a way, makes his food all the more revolutionary.

Sean Sherman — Oglala Lakota

Chef Sean Sherman won the 2018 James Beard Foundation Book Award for his seminal cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. The book was a seismic shock in the culinary world that challenges ideas as much as it educates. Chef Sherman is leading the way of the Indigenous food movement by combining education, health, culture, and food into a single, forward-thinking practice.

Chef Sherman’s food is a masterclass in culinary technique by way of Indigenous foodways. His dishes feel iconic, while also exhibiting a newness that’s intoxicating. There’s an artistry at play here that allows Indigenous cuisine to shine in ways it never has before. His food is changing everything we think we know about American food. It’s, truly, the future of our nation’s cuisine on every plate.

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