Culinary guest links food, cultural identity

Native American chef plans to teach about local foods

Priyanka Shrijay, Editor-in-Chief

Culture. Justice. Place. For the third installment of this year’s Kistenbroker Family Artists in Residence program, Chef Sean Sherman, caterer and food educator, will be at Lab April 8-11, including visits to classes and a free public lecture April 10. His program will educate the Lab community about the intersection between food and “place” through Native American cuisine and culture.

Mr. Sherman founded the Sioux Chef, a business aimed at educating and making indigenous foods accessible to more communities as possible. Mr. Sherman is an Oglala Lakota chef who has studied Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship, salt and sugar making, hunting and fishing, food preservation, Native American migration histories, elemental cooking techniques to aid him in revitalizing indigenous food systems in a modern culinary context, according to the Sioux Chef website.

According to Dana Thompson, Sherman’s agent and Sioux Chef co-owner, their initiative involves combatting the history of Native American genocide and forced assimilation.

“We realize we can’t undo 300 years of oppression in another decade,” she said, “so we’re just trying to get our nonprofit up and running and get people engaged in why these foods are beautiful, why they’re not a waste, why they’re physically important as medicine, why there’s beauty in its flavor but also in a spiritual sense as a way to heal trauma.”

Ruthie Williams, Lab’s home economics and sustainability teacher, said Mr. Sherman’s work embodies the themes of place, justice and culture.

“I feel he teaches on a subject that we don’t know much about at Lab. It seemed to fill a need,” she said. “At the same time it connects with a lot of things our community is doing. For example, nursery classes that plant in their garden are going to be meeting with them at their gardens to talk about farming techniques.”

According to Ms. Thompson, Mr. Sherman will present about why people don’t know about the indigenous foods in their own areas.

“It’s appalling to me that a lot of people in Chicago don’t even know that the city is named after the wild onions, the tribal food of that area,” she said. “There’s opportunity there for a lot of different educational perspectives, and Sean’s really good at molding his presentation to high school kids versus kindergarteners.”

Mr. Sherman will spend a full day at Earl Shapiro Hall holding interactive workshops.

Ms. Thompson emphasized that she and Mr. Sherman share a goal of showing Lab students how to connect to the food around them.

She said, “I think that the goal for Sean, and for me too, is for people to understand that there’s wild food everywhere around you, that packaged foods are not necessarily the most delicious foods, and that you might be able to connect with nature and understand your environment and your neighborhood and have some fun just learning about all the plants and animals around you.”

Mr. Sherman’s keynote speech April 10 is open to the public, according to Ms. Williams, because the goal is to reach the Lab, University and Hyde Park communities. The keynote speech event will be co-sponsored by the Kistenbroker Family Artists in Residence Program and the University of Chicago’s Frizzell Series, a year-long, student-organized series of events that explores agriculture, environment and health.