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Sioux Chef Is Revitalizing Native American Cuisine

sherman and thompson
Photo by Nancy Bundt

What do you know about Native American cuisine?

James Beard award-winning Chef Sean Sherman, who founded Sioux Chef in 2014 with the goal of revitalizing Native American cuisine and reintroducing the concept of North American food to today’s culture, is all about education.

Long buried and somewhat inaccessible to the masses, Native American culture and the food at its essence is defined by the land of our ancestors: Plants, specific tree species, animals, soil and the understanding that generations of people survived solely on the land for their source of food and shelter.

Minneapolis-based Sherman and Sioux Chef co-owner Dana Thompson are committed to celebrating and introducing to today’s society the ways of the Native Americans who first lived on the land. “Native agriculture is so important, married with permaculture landscapes,” said Thompson. With Sioux Chef, they’ve created a menu devoid of wheat, flour, dairy, sugar, beef, pork and chicken: all foods not present before colonialism.

At the core of Sioux Chef is the understanding of Chef Sherman’s ancestors. Through extensive research over the years, he’s studied the foundations of the indigenous food systems, focusing on Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, as well as land stewardship, salt and sugar making, hunting, fishing and food preservation. Mixed in there, too, is a deep dive into Native American migrational histories, elemental cooking techniques and Native culture and history in general.

Red Cliff Lake Trout White Bean Spread with Blue Corn Tostada

Photo by Jaida Grey Eagle

Through his work, he hopes to gain a full understanding of his ancestors and reintroduce Native American cuisine to today’s world. Native American food is in fact American food.

“Many romanticize American food as ‘burgers and fries,’ but there’s an American cuisine that has been here the whole time and hasn’t left. Plants, trees and bounties of foods that grow all around us. Then the process of gathering, seed keeping, processing foods: this is the heart of Native American foods and essentially our medicine.”

Sioux Chef aims to make these indigenous foods and methods of food sourcing more accessible throughout communities and educate others on the Native American cuisine. With this in mind, they’ve created the nonprofit North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS). The organization aims to educate and introduce food enterprises in the local tribal communities.

Sioux Chef has had great success since its inception in 2014. Recognition includes a 2015 First Peoples Fund Fellowship, and, in 2018, Sherman was awarded the National Center’s First American Entrepreneurship Award, followed by a James Beard Leadership Award in 2019. The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen also got a James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook.

Venison Tartare

Photo by Dana Thompson

And Owamni by the Sioux Chef, a modern Indigenous restaurant in Minneapolis, received a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in 2022.

Thompson says the recognition has been wonderful. “Sean winning that first award really helped raise awareness of our work and has helped people understand the impact for all of the tribes to have access to their own foods,” she said. “The diversity of Native American foods is vast and access to these foods is critical. The James Beard Foundation has helped the movement a lot and we are very grateful.”

She notes that it’s been a rewarding experience for both her and Sherman. “It’s been really emotional for us, the fans and the guests. We have tears in our dining room often, and I get stopped in every state I visit for work,” she said. “ People approach me to congratulate the fact that we exist. They’re celebrating with me that this has happened. We have hit a vein of understanding of culture, nutrition, health and holistic wellness. People are invested in it.”


Elizabeth Hazard

Elizabeth Hazard is a writer, producer and photography editor. Her work has appeared in various publications and she writes frequently about art, culture, fashion and history.



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