Sioux Chef aims at redefining American cuisine

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) Sean Sherman has a simple goal: He wants to re–define American cuisine by re–introducing indigenous foods.

Sioux Chef Sean Sherman.

The chef, who has local roots and a budding international career, was in Rapid City over the weekend to cook for a gala awards ceremony.

He’s bringing back to life Native American food traditions that were once all but lost to history.

As a child growing up in KOTA Territory he noticed a void in the culinary landscape.

“Growing up on Pine Ridge reservation in the 70s and 80s there were very little traditional foods that were still there,” he said. “A whole part of the food system was missing.”

As an adult he saw that as an opportunity.

“As a chef I realized how under-represented Native American foods were,” he said. “I just saw the immense possibility of digging backwards and trying to figure out how can we bring this forward.”

Sherman, who is known professionally as the Sioux Chef, researched indigenous food systems and developed a framework for re–introducing lost traditions and flavors.

“So we only use indigenous ingredients,” he said. “We cut out all European stuff like flour, dairy, sugar and even beef, pork and chicken. We just try to work with the food that surround us.”

Techniques he brought to bear on his trip to KOTA Territory.

“So one of the first things we did when we came to the Black Hills just go up to the top of the Black Hills and harvest a whole bunch of cool flavors,” he said holding plastic baggie full of greenery. “We gathered this yarrow. You see this all over the floors floor. We've been doing this for a couple of years now we've been all over the world showcasing indigenous American foods, We figure there is such a vibrant future for it out there.”

Sherman has been getting attention of late including from the BBC and the New York Times. He hopes the restaurant he plans to open next year in Minneapolis will help spread his concepts even farther.

“I feel like we can re-define American and Canadian foods -- even Mexican foods -- through indigenous cultures,” he said. “So instead of American being hamburgers and Coca–Cola -- that's what people think of as being American food if you're from a different country -- but it should be all this wonderful Native American food we have everywhere. We have all this indigenous food that's been here for so long and these flavors really represent our country so well.”