April 2018

Native American Cuisine Symposium 2018: Food for Thought

Native American Cuisine: Traditions and Contemporary Contexts, held at Gilcrease Museum on April 13-14, included not only delicious native cuisine but also plenty of food for thought.

The symposium kicked off on Friday evening, with a multi-course dinner prepared by Chefs Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra of Tocabe American Indian Eatery in Denver. The meal featured contemporary takes on traditional Native American ingredients and methods. The menu included a delicious array of flavors, from a fresh spring seasonal salad with wild cranberry and white corn vinaigrette to braised bison ribs with chokecherry, wild onions, and white Pima corn. Dinner attendees enjoyed learning about the inspiration behind each dish from Ben as the courses were presented.

Saturday morning kicked off with a heartfelt performance by the Native Nations Youth Council Drum Group. The first panel of speakers included Dr. Valarie Bluebird Jernigan from OU Tulsa, Dr. Lisa Cromer from the University of Tulsa, and Thosh Collins, Co-Founder of Well For Culture. The presenters focused on a variety of topics centering on wellness in Native American communities–both mental and physical.

Following the first panel, attendees enjoyed a traditional Cherokee lunch prepared by local Chef Nico Albert and Bradley Dry. The sumptuous spread included: Kanuchi, wild onion and eggs, corn soup with venison, bison tamales with wild onion herb sauce, blue corn and squash bread, and grape dumplings.

Director and producer Sterlin Harjo premiered the pilot for his series Tradish–a food and travel program hosted by Ben and Matt of Tocabe. The audience enjoyed watching Ben and Matt’s journey through Oklahoma, exploring unique native dishes and learning how to prepare them.

The final panel of the day included discussions from Nico Albert, Executive Chef at Duet, Feather Smith-Trevino, Cultural Biologist and seed keeper for the Cherokee Nation, Ben Jacobs, Co-Owner and Chef at Tocabe, and Joe Johnston, Food Historian and Author of Grits to Glory: How Southern Cookin’ Got So Good. The lively talks addressed issues of cultivating and maintaining traditional food customs–from gardening to cooking American Indian foods in new and interesting ways.

As the symposium wrapped up, it became clear that food is an essential component in understanding indigenous history and heritage as well as an important piece of culture to be preserved, discussed, and innovated as we move into the future.

For more information on our collaborators, chefs, speakers, etc:

Also, a big thanks to Dr. Brian Hosmer, H.G. Barnard Associate Professor of Western American History at The University of Tulsa and Sasha Martin, food writer and author of Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness for moderating the panels.