August 20th, 2014 Last Updated on: August 20th, 2014
“Locally sourced”, “foraged”, “farm-to-table” seem to be all the buzz in the food world these days. However it seems like common sense when you look at it from a Native American perspective. There were no grocery stores “back in the day” and the land provided what you needed. Read more in this article from Food & Wine about how chefs like Nephi Craig are trying to bring Native American cuisine (pre-Columbian) back to the forefront.
In summer's copper twilight, Apache chef Nephi Craig collects wild tea from the foothills of Arizona’s White Mountains, just as he has every year since he was a boy. Like generations of Apache before him, Craig gathers it in a deliberate, contemplative way—careful never to pull it up by the roots, so it will grow back. For centuries, Apache have steeped these tawny stalks to brew a reddish-orange drink that helps cure colds and connects their people to the traditions of their ancestors. But Craig uses wild tea and other foraged flora to create a different kind of link—one between this isolated corner of Native American country and the wider culinary world.
As he fills his basket, Craig climbs to 10,000 feet, an elevation from which he can take in the peaks and valleys of the mountain range where Apache have always collected, cooked and eaten the plants they found. Finally, he reaches Summit Restaurant at the Sunrise Park Resort Hotel, where he uses foraged ingredients in his remarkable tasting menus—his pioneering take on Native American cuisine.
The interplay between traditional and modern is what makes Craig’s menu fascinating. Some dishes appear under their romanized Apache names: The gazpacho-esque chilled tomato soup with quinoa and mint, for instance, is Itoo’ Chínk’ózhé, Sik’az. Those words tell a story—one about the time when tomatoes went by a different name and ancient culinary geniuses made use of their deliciousness.
Craig’s quest to bring Native cuisine to prominence— a mission he shares with like-minded chefs in the Native American Culinary Association that he founded in 2003—is going to take time. But one of his early acolytes is his 10-year-old son, Ari. Like many kids, Ari is into baseball and soccer, but with the persuasive power of a Google search, Craig piqued his son’s interest in their shared culinary history. “I sat Ari down in front of the computer and said, ‘Look at these chefs in Denmark and New York doing what they call foraging,’ ” Craig says. “ ‘We’ve done that for generations, and now people all over the world are doing it, too.’ ”
Craig also has a blog with a powerful post about Native American cuisine and colonization. You can read that at Apaches in the Kitchen.
Photo © Robert Fisher
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