Sean Sherman signs copies of his book The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen. Photo: The Sioux Chef
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Native Sun News Today: 'Sioux Chef' Sean Sherman rises to fame



Lakota chef hits the bigtime

Mentors local Lakota catering service
By Jaclyn Lanae
Native Sun News Today Correspondent
nativesunnews.today

RAPID CITY - Born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, proud Oglala Lakota Chef Sean Sherman and his company - The Sioux Chef - have risen to fame, and rightly so.

Just in the past few years, his culinary vision has been showcased across the country by publications like the New York Times, NPR, Cowboys and Indians, Native People’s Magazine, Indian Country Today and many others. He’s brought his impassioned mission to gourmet plates at the James Beard House in Manhattan and Milan, contributed to the creation of the Tatanka Truck food truck, and shared his wisdom at Yale, the Culinary Institute of America, the United Nations, and others according to the Sioux-Chef.com.

As a child growing up on the reservation, reports the New York Times, Sherman’s family kitchen was stocked with the traditional government commodities; cereal, shortening, and hash. While the family was fortunate to supplement their stores with wild game like pheasant and rabbit, they - like many other families - subsisted on government rations. He was less than 10 years old when he brought home his first pheasant and has fond memories of collecting chokecherries, which his mother boiled down into wojapi.

It wasn’t until the mid-2000s, however… after a try at college, after his induction into restaurant work as a bus boy, after working his way into top chef positions, that he had his “epiphany moment.” He was taking some time off following a particularly demanding position in a small town north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and spending a lot of time with the Huichol people. “I saw a lot of commonalities,” he remembers. In their beadwork, art, and mythology, and “all of a sudden it just clicked. I wanted to learn more about the heritage of my own ancestry.”


Research was difficult given the oral nature of the Lakota traditions but he spent a few years “filling up with history, ethnobotany, and anthropology,” and in the process built his own educational model that served to inspire his company, The Sioux Chef. “I figured it out from the ground up - literally,” he jokes.

More than two decades later, Mr. Sherman employs the model of education he built, the research he garnered, and the experience working alongside his mother all those years ago to bring regionally and ethnographically native dishes to people around the world - in books, lectures, and on dinner plates.

His culinary creations famously avoid those government commodities - as well as wheat flour, sugar, and dairy; The Sioux Chef creates their decadent meals with traditional ingredients paired with a plethora of wild plants available all over the plains of the Midwest; sage, hyssop, sumac, corn, juniper ash, cedar fronds, seasonal squashes and more.

While the food itself - the vision of bringing traditional indigenous foods to the people from whence it came, and the world as a whole - is foundational to mission of The Sioux Chef, Sherman hopes his work can have an even wider impact. According to Kimberly Tilsen-Braven Heart, it is already doing just that.

Founder of the Rapid City based Et-i-quette catering company, Tilsen-Brave Heart saw the same basic need in her community; an almost complete lack of legitimate, indigenous food providers offering organic, locally sourced, native foods. Together with her husband Brandon Brave Heart, the pair launched their catering company just a month ago and have already seen great success. Tilsen-Brave Heart credits Sherman for “creating a space, and environment for more indigenous chefs and our art-forms.”

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“He’s only been encouraging with me,” she elaborates, pointing out that he and his partner Dana Thompson have shown her unwavering support. Whether her questions were operational in nature - dealing with logistics of business in the food industry, or related to the art of food creation and menu development, Mr. Sherman and Ms. Thompson were there to coach and guide.

“It’s a big deal,” she asserts. “If I’d have tried to do what I’m doing three years ago, it wouldn’t have been as well received, people wouldn’t have been as open to it.” He’s created a space for native chefs to share and showcase culinary traditions that are central to the indigenous culture itself, and in doing so, perpetuate and preserve those traditions.

In addition, The Sioux Chef hopes their work will inspire youth to explore the culinary arts, the food industry in general, and grow the demand for - and jobs in - Native American owned food businesses. To that end, Sherman sources his goods from local and indigenous providers whenever he can, purchasing walleye from Red Lake Fishery and wild rice harvested by tribes in Northern Minnesota.


Recently, Mr. Sherman and Ms. Thompson took a major step forward in their next project; they received their non-profit status for their newly formed Native American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems. This Indigenous Food Lab will function both as a teaching facility and a working restaurant where students of all backgrounds can learn - and practice - their culinary art.

Between his recent award as a Bush Fellow and his book’s nomination for a June Beard award, Mr. Sherman will be taking time to come home - visiting Rapid City’s Bird Cage Bookstore and Mercantile housed in the Racing Magpie studios. Beginning at 2pm, the event will begin with a discussion of Mr. Sherman’s book The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen and will be followed by a book signing.

Meet Sean Sherman this weekend:

When: Saturday, March 31st 2 - 3:30pm
Where: Bird Cage Book Store and Mercantile
Racing Magpie in Rapid City
406 5th Street

Contact Jaclyn Lanae at AuthorJaclynLanae@gmail.com

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today