#followfriday - 4 Indigenous Culinary Artists
by Rebekah Elkerton
As we enter a new cycle it is important for each of us to take stock of what we’re consuming so that we can begin on a good foot. While food is just one aspect of this, we have daily opportunities to build healthier habits and learn from our ancestors. We’re able to connect with culture and the land we’re on by returning to the recipes of those who came before us so that we may re-indigenize our diets.
Each of these chefs are teachers in undoing our relationship with colonizer food-ways, as they reimagine the use of ancestral ingredients using a combination of modern and traditional cooking techniques. The care with which each of these creators prepare food is telling of the relationship held with non-human world and a reverence for all that it offers.
Beware: When you check out any of the following culinary artists they’re bound to ignite a rumbling in your tummy as their delectable food posts highlight the immense possibilities of Indigenous cuisine.
Chef Justine Deschenes
Algonquin cultural and food ambassador Justine Deschenes makes delicious and earth conscious culinary creations. Deschenes grew up cooking alongside her grandmother from whom she learned land-based food preparation methods that she still uses today. She utilizes her TikTok to share some of these practices and teach us about decolonial food-ways. She says “Decolonizing food means much more than being choosy about where you harvest and source your meats and veggies. It’s about being aware that every decision you make has an effect on everything, including what you choose to put in your body.”
Deschenes is a firm believer that the land has everything that we need to nourish our bodies to reach optimal health. Her instagram will have your mouth watering as you scroll through photos of her savoury meals. Those on her reserve, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, are lucky enough to enjoy access to her tasty creations as Deschenes offers reasonably priced boxes with a selection of various treats ready for pick-up.
Chef Jeremy Thunderbird
Jeremy Thunderbird, who is Squamish, Ohlone and Chumash Native, is redefining contemporary Indigenous cuisine and diversifying his local community with his hearty and savory creations.
When Thunderbird lost his job a few years ago, he found joy in cooking for friends and family. With their encouragement he held an Instagram pop-up plate sale where Thunderbird’s professional culinary career began to take shape. His plates took social media by storm and he began to receive requests for catering services. Looking at his instagram, which features his finger-licking food, anyone can see why. Uplifted by his community, Native Soul Cuisine was born.
Having noticed a gap in the Seattle food scene for Native American Cuisine, Thunderbird created a menu that includes the traditional foods and ingredients that he was raised with. He offers native fusion plates like smoked salmon mac n cheese, buffalo chili, the renowned Navajo taco, and much more. He finds pride and joy in showcasing and sharing his culture through his meals.
Follow Jeremy Thunderbird on Instagram
Chef Crystal Walpepah
Chef Crystal Walpepah, of the Kickapoo nation, has been changing the game with her beautifully plated Indigenous cuisine. As an advocate for Indigenous food sovereignty, Walpepah has built her business on a practice of honouring land and community. Wahpepah was notably the first Native American chef to take part in the Food Network’s “Chopped.”
Wahpepah is the founder of Wahpepah’s kitchen, where one can find foods like her Cedar smoked sweet potato tostada, traditional Mayan amaranth chocolate cakes, and buffalo kabobs. She sources the majority of her ingredients from Indigenous farmers around the country. Valuing relationships between Indigenous knowledge keepers, she has learned from native farmers and seed keepers about the ingredients she uses in her cook and their histories
Wahpepah gives back to the community by teaching cooking classes both online and at her local Friendship centre. She has served as a chef mentor in the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance’s Food and Culinary program. Her culinary creations are a direct reflection of her love Indigenous community, practices and family members. She has said: “I like to include memories of my grandmother and my aunties because I believe that I would never have been an Indigenous chef without them. And so, there are certain dishes that I make that remind me to keep my grandmother’s memory alive.”
Chef Brave Heart
Chef Kimberly Tilson-Brave Heart, member of the Oglala Lakota Nation of the Pine Ridge Indian Reserve, believes in instilling good energy into the food she is making as a means of creating medicine through feeding people. Her love of her family and community has been the guiding force in her approach to the culinary arts.
Brave Heart acknowledges food as an integral part of decolonizing Indigenous bodies through the reclamation of health. Advocating for a primal diet of buffalo, vegetables and fruits, Brave Heart's beautiful charcuterie boards are one example of her use of the cuisine to support Indigenous people to feel better in their bodies and live more fully. She promotes reconnection with traditional foods as key to healing intergenerational trauma, noting that food can be enjoyable fuel for wholistic wellbeing. Brave Heart suggests focusing on foods like beans, squash, and corn, while adding in ancestral protein sources as a great way to begin Indigenizing your diet.
Her colourful Instagram feed and vibrant energy invites us to feel inspired, creative, and loved as we reclaim ourselves through decolonial eating.