This Chef is Revitalizing Heritage Through Cuisine

He dreams of bringing these special delicacies to every city.

(Quadxeon /

Wild rice, rabbits, rose hips, and bison: How many of these ingredients have you cooked with or eaten recently? Although these foods don’t often feature in modern American cuisine, they were staples of Native American repast, in a bygone era.

Sean Sherman, is a chef from the Oglala Lakota tribe, who is attempting something truly remarkable. My Modern Met explains, through his company,The Sioux Chef, and his restaurant, Owamni, Sherman is bringing these ingredients, and others, back into the public eye. Sherman’s Native-inspired cooking is not just a celebration of his ancestral heritage, it’s also delicious and comes with a host of health benefits. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Owamni - by The Sioux Chef (@owamni)

Becoming the “Sioux Chef”
NPR mentions Sherman’s background. Sean Sherman grew up in South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. As a reservation kid, Sherman usually didn’t have access to high-quality or tasty food. 

Sherman tells NPR, “When I was growing up on Pine Ridge, we didn't have any restaurants and we had one grocery store to [serve] basically [an area] the size of Connecticut. So there's very little nutritional food access out there.”

Growing up, Sherman says, his family relied on the Commodity Food Programs, which meant canned goods, tasteless food, and powdered milk. Sherman explains, “I just remember a lot of over-sugared fruits and syrups and I remember a lot of over-salted vegetables in cans and meat that was not ideal…and having to eat a lot of powdered milk with very dry cereal in the morning and literally putting pure corn syrup on everything just to make things taste better.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Owamni - by The Sioux Chef (@owamni)

After high school, Sherman started working for the U.S. Forest Service. As part of his job, he had to learn the names of the local plants. The job piqued his interest in indigenous plants and indigenous foods, according to My Modern Met. 

Sherman started doing extensive research on his own. His research culminated in his cookbook, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigneous Kitchen,” and his company, The Sioux Chef, which he started in 2014. A few years later, Sherman opened the restaurant, Owamni, in Minneapolis, where he showcased Native ingredients and flavors. Owamni won the coveted James Beard culinary award in 2021.

Running Owamni
Sean Sherman tells NPR how he brings Native cuisine to life in his business and his restaurant. The first thing that is different about Owamni is the ingredients Sherman and his team uses. Owamni doesn’t use any “colonial” food, that Native tribes didn’t have access to pre-contact with European civilizations. 

"We look at showcasing the amazing diversity and flavor profiles of all the different tribes across North America, all the different regions, and really celebrating that and cutting away colonial ingredients. We don't have things on our menu that have dairy, wheat flour, cane sugar, ... beef, pork or chicken,” Sherman explains.

Most of the ingredients “The Sioux Chef” does use, are sourced from local and national indigenous producers. For example, the bison comes from a South Dakota-based Lakota tribe. Wild rice is hand-harvested, either by tribes, or by small businesses. 

According to Sherman, the vibe in the restaurant is totally unique as well. “I've seen a lot of people who just get really struck by it, especially Indigenous people, because it's not typical to be able to go someplace and see our Indigenous foods on the menu and see the Native names on the menu, see Native people cooking the food and serving the food and listening to Native music coming out of the speakers and just the whole vibe.” Sherman shares, “So it's a whole experience and it's something that's super special and unique.”

“Decolonizing your diet” for a healthier diet
Sherman tells Eco Farming Daily, 60% of Native Americans suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and other conditions linked to poor diets. “Post-colonial” foods like artificial sweeteners, white sugar, white flour, canned meat, and hydrogenated fats, wreak havoc on the body.

According to Yahoo, a diet free of sugar, dairy, wheat, beef, pork, and chicken, that focuses on local plants and animals is more sustainable, and healthier. Native chef, Catriona Rueda Esquibel explains, “Most Native foods were chosen because they contributed to health. A lot of them had protective benefits against things like high blood sugar. Eating beans, eating cactus, those kinds of things, keep your blood sugar from peaking. It’s something we need right now, and it's not met with standard American diet.”

Native cuisine allows indigenous people to explore their histories, cultures, and heritage. It is more sustainable, and supports local businesses. And, it comes with a host of health benefits. Chef Sherman is working towards a future where Native cuisine is more widespread, and ingredients like wild rice and bison are more familiar and well known.

He explains, “We should have Native restaurants in every single city to showcase the amazing cultures that are all over the place and the resiliency of Indigenous peoples that are still thriving here today everywhere.”

5 Indigenous Health Practices to Practice Today
First Tribally Affiliated Medical School Opens in the US
Preserving an Ancient Language Through the Power of Music