By Lee Egerstrom
Sean Sherman, the well-known Native American chef, author and culinary entrepreneur active in promoting Indigenous foods, is receiving another prestigious award – the 2023 Julia Child Award for what he is doing to “decolonize” North America’s original cuisine.
That’s not how the Julia Child Foundation phrased it. But it sums up what Sherman has been doing since launching his “the Sioux Chef”’ catering business a decade ago and expanding from that over the years.
Around the same time in early June when the foundation announced Sherman as the recipient of this year’s Child award, Sherman and colleagues with the Indigenous Food Lab Market in Minneapolis opened a restaurant in the popular food court area of Midtown Commons, 920 E. Lake Street.
Sherman founded the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS) nonprofit organization to support production of native foods and traditional Indigenous cuisines. It has been training chefs and others online while waiting out the pandemic, Sherman said. The IFL Market, however, is now serving carryout foods prepared in the lab’s kitchen.
The Julia Child Award comes with a $50,000 grant that NATIFS will use to grow and expand its food lab operations.
Sherman told The Circle that he and colleagues hope to take the Minneapolis lab concept to Anchorage, Alaska; Rapid City, S.D.; Bozeman, Mont., “and we are considering Oahu … definitely Hawaii. Hawaii has Indigenous people, too!”
Eric W. Spivey, chair of the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts, announced the award.
“Sean Sherman continues to dedicate his career to preserving Native American cuisine and creating a holistic, open-sourced system where others can expand on his work,” he said.
“His unwavering commitment to Indigenous food systems has already reshaped the culinary landscape and played a pivotal role in fostering Native food sovereignty. Sean and Julia share a dedication to education and a commitment to inspire change. We are thrilled to honor Sean as this year’s Julia Child Award recipient.”
Circle readers, especially among the Ojibwe and Cree who have a working knowledge of the French language, have to find the linkage of Sherman with Child enjoyable. The Sioux Chef sounds a lot like sous chef, the ‘under-chef’ in a kitchen and second in command to the executive chef, or ‘chef de cuisine.’
Sherman is Oglala Lakota and was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in So. Dak. Child was a major promoter of French cuisine. Sherman was among people interested in foods who grew up watching Child’s The French Chef television show.
He as much as said he played sous chef to Child in the foundation’s announcement.
“I saw the impact that food can have on the world through Julia and I’m excited to continue her legacy through my work,” he said.
“With the generous grant from the Foundation, I look forward to continuing my efforts to develop educational materials and programs for Native communities and fostering the rich heritage that is an essential part of American culinary history and life.”
The foundation announcement said watching Child on TV built a desire to explore Indigenous culinary heritage that has taken him around the U.S. and to Indigenous communities in Mexico.
“Throughout his journey, Sherman has dedicated himself to developing approachable Native recipes for home cooks, akin to Julia’s efforts to popularize French cuisine in America,” the announcement said.
The Twin Cities metro area has benefited from that journey.
He created The Sioux Chef, now a partnership business, in 2014 to cater food, and in 2015 he helped design the Tatanka Truck, a food truck in partnership with the Little Earth Community of United Tribes in south Minneapolis.
He has done a lot of educating along the way with groups, mass communications, speeches and demonstrations – here and across the continent. He has performed dinners in New York and in Italy, among other places, and has presented lectures at Yale University, to United Nations groups, and at the Culinary Institute of America. The latter is known, tongue-in-cheek, as “the other CIA” and would have students who could enjoy “the Sioux Chef.”
In his biographical listings, Sherman said he has studied on his own the foundations of Indigenous food systems. That includes “the knowledge of Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship, salt and sugar making, hunting and fishing, food preservation, Native American migrational histories, elemental cooking techniques, and Native culture and history in general to gain a full understanding of bringing back a sense of Native American cuisine to today’s world.”
Sharing that knowledge with people and sometimes customers didn’t go unnoticed.
Sherman received fellowship support in 2015 from the First Peoples Fund, in 2018 from the Bush Foundation, received the 2018 James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook (The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen), and received the James Beard Leadership Award in 2019.
Then, in 2021, Sherman co-founded Owamni by The Sioux Chef, an Indigenous restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. Given its uniqueness, it opened with great fanfare that continues to this day.
The next year The New Yorker magazine declared: “Nearly overnight, it became the most prominent example of Indigenous American cuisine in the United States.”
Up popped the James Beard Foundation again. It named Owamni the Best New Restaurant in America in 2022.
Time Magazine had noticed. It recently named Sherman among its 100 Most Influential People of 2023.
The Julia Child Foundation said it will formally present Sherman’s new award at ceremonies in Minneapolis on Oct. 24. Proceeds from the event will support and preservation of Julia Child’s kitchen and the Smithsonian Food History Project at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Information about the Indigenous Food Lab Market, now open for customers, can be found at https://natifs.org/ifl-market.