How This Navajo Chef Brings His Native Food Traditions Back

How This Navajo Chef Brings His Native Food Traditions Back


Growing up on a reservation, there’s only so much you can do. It makes my heart happy to
motivate the next generation. Show them that you can
make a career out of cooking. The possibilities are endless. (upbeat music) My name is Brian Yazzie. I am Navajo, Diné,
from a community called Dennehotso, Arizona,
which is located on the Northeast of
the Navajo Nation. I’m a traveling chef. I do presentation
on food sovereignty, chef demos, cooking classes, and mainly I focus on
working with native youth. Growing up, peers and
friends that I hung out with, it was all on a
negative perspective. At the age of seven,
I started cooking, helping my mom in the kitchen. So that was a balance
of being on the street and also being home in the
kitchen helping my family cook. The year we moved
here to St. Paul, I wasn’t sure what
I wanted to do. When I got into
culinary, I realized that there was no representation
of indigenous food. And that just inspired me. Not only did our ingredients
survive manifest destiny or colonization,
but they flooded and helped the survival of
people across the world. – When I first met Brian
as a culinary student he was somebody that had
the ability to tell stories by using modernist techniques
and indigenous ingredients. – [Brian] My go-to dish
would be the wild rice bowl which is pretty popular. It’s just a mix of wild
rice with the local veg topped with any
protein you’d like. Venison, duck, or bison. – My name is Sean Sherman. I am the CEO and founder
of the Sioux Chef. – [Brian] I was in culinary
school at that time. My fiancé Danielle, at that time, we started a
Native American club on campus. We were looking for
a Native caterer and my fiancé found Sean
Sherman on social media. – [Sean] We have two restaurant
projects on the horizon. We have a catering company we’ve been running
for over four years. We had a food truck
called Tatanka Truck that we ran for a
couple of years also. – When he showed up with
the food that he prepared, to me it was foreign. The wild games and the foraged
ingredients that he provided, I didn’t know anything
about 75% of that. And he found out I
was a culinary student and basically from
there he brought me on, and working under his wing
and from his guidance, even to today I consider
him as one of my mentors. – For people like
Brian and myself and some of the other
chefs that are out there who are getting a lot
of media attention, we see ourselves being
really strong role models and we see a lot of
interest in young people wanting to get more
into culinary arts with a focus on Native cuisine. – And you can roll. You
can take your knife out. Take your knife out
and roll it again. And cut that side again. There you go. – [Pheobe] Our mission
at Dream A Wild Health is to restore
health and wellbeing to the Native communities
in the Twin Cities. There are kind of two
ways that we do that. We say we grow seeds
and we grow leaders. – Now you can help
me cut these up next. I’ll be paired with one of the
new youth leaders this year. And his name is Michael. I’ll be working with him. We’ll be creating a dish. – I’ve always enjoyed cooking so this is just kind
of a fun thing to do. I’ve never really
considered going into that ’cause I’m not really that good but Brian’s helping
me learn, so. – [Brian] I like to use
these similar to croutons. So keep your hand here
and then hold this down. And cover the top
with your hand. (blender whirring) – In the past it has
been an uphill battle but I think that things
are starting to change. And that a lot of our youths
are recognizing the importance of staying connected to our land and staying connected
to our food sources. – [Brian] So I was
just infusing some of the smokey flavor
from my sweetgrass. You can try the
peas if you want. Watercress might
be a bit spicy. – Yeah, that’s really good. (drum beat) – [Brian] With my reservation
on the Navajo Nation, about 25% of the population
are diabetic patients. And most of those are elders. It’s a very tricky
situation because Native population that
are still in poverty. A lot of our elders are still
in that historical trauma of moving forward
from boarding schools. It’s hard to bring
in a new ingredient that is foreign to
their taste buds. Put some of these on here. – [Woman] Everybody’s anxious
to see what he’s doing but we’re not seeing much. – [Brian] Regardless
of how much experience you have as a chef,
you always have to have that boundary and that
respect for your elders. – He needs to come out here and
do it in front of the crowd. – Do it, and do it
quick. One more.

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