Enticing aromas wafted throughout the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum over the weekend where food lines were staffed by white jacketed servers, all of them named chef.
The fourth annual Celebration of Basketry & Native Foods, “Celebrating People, Land, and Food,” was a resounding success according to Nephi Craig, founder of the Native American Culinary Association.
“This is a symposium of sharing. We gathered a wide range of indigenous people all in one spot to display their talents and eat healthy traditional food,” he said over a mutton taco and a buffalo slider.
He needed noon-time energy to prepare for a nighttime Chef’s Benefit Dinner, a museum fundraiser with 93 diners who paid $150 a plate for the five-course meal with wine pairings. And that was after an hour-long reception with tray-passed items prepared by four chefs who worked alongside their mentors.
“Our mission here is to help grow the culture of Native cooking. It’s a rough journey because we’re dealing with Western culinary traditions pitted against indigenous culinary traditions and they’re very different. But I want younger chefs to see there are others already doing it, going for it and exercising a sense of courageous humility in practicing the food arts.
“Globally, every pocket of culture around the world is becoming conscious of, and moving back towards, their ancestral knowledge—kind of like an echo from the bottom headed upward and initiated by oppressed people in poverty.”
One of the many who cooked and spoke was M. Karlos Baca, a Ute chef from Colorado. The chef explained the importance of maintaining Native culinary traditions.
“In pre-industrial days, we lived in a cycle of nature and what the earth provided is what sustained us," he says. "It’s on our shoulders to bring back our traditional food system and my place in time is to incorporate my history in a modern perspective.”
The following days opened the event up to all at the museum, offering a glimpse of Native foods and folk art with the usual museum line-up of indigenous plants and animals. With pit smoked salmon, acorn-studded necklaces, traditional dances and informative cooking demonstrations, the event served up plenty to sample in nearly every way. If you missed it this year, be sure to check out the fifth NACA Celebration of Basketry & Native Foods, which we'll keep you updated on as we get more information.