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The Carletonian

Sean Sherman: Famous chef to speak at Carleton

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-97c4df5f-c443-91b7-aa75-3fdebf05e422">Chef Sean Sherman is in many ways a rebel. Drawing on revolutionary influences including Picasso, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Crazy Horse, he is attempting to reclaim indigenous cuisine, creating a movement that is much bigger than just food. Years ago, he rose as a star in the Minneapolis culinary scene, gaining a position as executive chef at La Bodega in 2000. After many hours toiling in restaurants that worked at reviving and showcasing the culture of a specific region or people, however, he had a revelatory epiphany.

“I realized after years of learning about the ancestral foods of many other cultures, that there was no representation of my own culture anywhere in the world,” Sherman said, referring specifically to his heritage as a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, but also more generally to the Native American people.

Two years ago, he decided to act upon this revelation. He quit the restaurant industry to begin a company that is as much about food as it is about education and historical reclamation. He opened the Sioux Chef, a catering company based in Minneapolis, as a way to reintroduce food that has become “ironically foreign,” a term unironically coined by his partner Dana Thompson.

His company, which caters for up to 1,000 and runs a food truck called the Tatanka Truck, avoids any and all foods that arose after colonial contact. That means no sugar, no wheat flour and no dairy. Instead, Sherman uses indigenous foods, creating meals that celebrate the native culture wherever he may be catering.

He and his team can often be seen out in the field foraging for their ingredients. Sherman is adept at identifying local fauna, often pointing to wild amaranth or chokeberry bushes through the window in his car. Berries in particular form a staple in his cuisine, as they are used to create wojapi, a traditional sauce from (ideally) freshly picked berries. His version calls for blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, simmered in water and mineral salt before being rounded out by a touch of pure maple syrup. For Sherman, this all-purpose sauce, which falls somewhere between a sweet compote and natural jam, is used liberally, for dressing salads, topping sandwiches and even acting as the star in one of his desserts.

Sherman’s cuisine is an unusual combination of native traditions and modern gastronomy. Cedar-braised bison can be seen co-mingling with a maple squash puree, all on top of a seared corn cake (not to be mistaken with fry bread, a dish Sherman resolutely avoids). He smokes turkey and whitefish, then juxtaposes them with heirloom beans and dandelion greens.

The Tatanka Truck, which has a smaller menu, still marries modern technique with ancient flavors. Chef Sherman’s “indigenous tacos,” made with corn cakes (think arepa), maple and juniper braised beans, and a wide array of proteins, have been huge hits, as has his popcorn, which is dusted with sumac and smoked salt before being dressed with sage oil.

Despite working non-stop hours, Sherman and his team have broader ambitions than their current schedule of catering events. They recently became the most-backed restaurant in Kickstarter history, pushing them closer to a brick-and-mortar establishment to be opened in the Twin Cities. Additionally, Sherman is working on a cookbook designed to espouse not only his expertise in the kitchen but his gastronomical philosophy.

And as for advice for us? Sherman says: “Be curious. Figure out how to learn for yourselves and question everything. Learn your own histories, where you came from, and put yourself in other people’s shoes. Travel and learn how to live in a foreign country and keep your mind open. Try new foods, learn new languages, then go home and see everything you took for granted with a new set of eyes and a bigger understanding.” Coming from experience, this seems like sage counsel.

Sherman will be speaking at Convocation next week.

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