Independent Lens


alter-NATIVE: Kitchen Ep. 1

Brian Yazzie, a Diné/Navajo traveling chef, does presentations demonstrating Native cooking across the country while mentoring Native youth. Brian uses modern techniques with Indigenous ingredients, prepping amazing dishes like sumac duck confit with acorn squash, mushroom and sunflower shoots, turnips and sunchoke puree, sweetgrass-infused beet puree, and his very popular wild rice bowl.

AIRED: November 19, 2019 | 0:05:30

Growing up on a reservation,

there's only so much you can do.

It makes my heart happy to motivate the next generation.

Show them that you can make a career out of cooking.

The possibilities are endless.

(upbeat music)

My name is Brian Yazzie.

I am Navajo, Diné, from a community called

Dennehotso, Arizona, which is located

on the Northeast of the Navajo Nation.

I'm a traveling chef.

I do presentation on food sovereignty,

chef demos, cooking classes,

and mainly I focus on working with native youth.

Growing up, peers and friends that I hung out with,

it was all on a negative perspective.

At the age of seven, I started cooking,

helping my mom in the kitchen.

So that was a balance of being on the street

and also being home in the kitchen helping my family cook.

The year we moved here to St. Paul,

I wasn't sure what I wanted to do.

When I got into culinary, I realized

that there was no representation of indigenous food.

And that just inspired me.

Not only did our ingredients survive manifest destiny

or colonization, but they flooded

and helped the survival of people across the world.

- When I first met Brian as a culinary student

he was somebody that had the ability to tell stories

by using modernist techniques and indigenous ingredients.

- [Brian] My go-to dish would be the wild rice bowl

which is pretty popular.

It's just a mix of wild rice with the local veg

topped with any protein you'd like.

Venison, duck, or bison.

- My name is Sean Sherman.

I am the CEO and founder of the Sioux Chef.

- [Brian] I was in culinary school at that time.

My fiancé Danielle,

at that time, we started a Native American club on campus.

We were looking for a Native caterer

and my fiancé found Sean Sherman on social media.

- [Sean] We have two restaurant projects on the horizon.

We have a catering company

we've been running for over four years.

We had a food truck called Tatanka Truck

that we ran for a couple of years also.

- When he showed up with the food that he prepared,

to me it was foreign.

The wild games and the foraged ingredients that he provided,

I didn't know anything about 75% of that.

And he found out I was a culinary student

and basically from there he brought me on,

and working under his wing and from his guidance,

even to today I consider him as one of my mentors.

- For people like Brian and myself

and some of the other chefs that are out there

who are getting a lot of media attention,

we see ourselves being really strong role models

and we see a lot of interest in young people

wanting to get more into culinary arts

with a focus on Native cuisine.

- And you can roll. You can take your knife out.

Take your knife out and roll it again.

And cut that side again.

There you go.

- [Pheobe] Our mission at Dream A Wild Health

is to restore health and wellbeing

to the Native communities in the Twin Cities.

There are kind of two ways that we do that.

We say we grow seeds and we grow leaders.

- Now you can help me cut these up next.

I'll be paired with one of the new youth leaders this year.

And his name is Michael.

I'll be working with him.

We'll be creating a dish.

- I've always enjoyed cooking

so this is just kind of a fun thing to do.

I've never really considered going into that

'cause I'm not really that good

but Brian's helping me learn, so.

- [Brian] I like to use these similar to croutons.

So keep your hand here and then hold this down.

And cover the top with your hand.

(blender whirring)

- In the past it has been an uphill battle

but I think that things are starting to change.

And that a lot of our youths are recognizing the importance

of staying connected to our land

and staying connected to our food sources.

- [Brian] So I was just infusing some of

the smokey flavor from my sweetgrass.

You can try the peas if you want.

Watercress might be a bit spicy.

- Yeah, that's really good.

(drum beat)

- [Brian] With my reservation on the Navajo Nation,

about 25% of the population are diabetic patients.

And most of those are elders.

It's a very tricky situation because

Native population that are still in poverty.

A lot of our elders are still in that historical trauma

of moving forward from boarding schools.

It's hard to bring in a new ingredient

that is foreign to their taste buds.

Put some of these on here.

- [Woman] Everybody's anxious to see what he's doing

but we're not seeing much.

- [Brian] Regardless of how much experience

you have as a chef, you always have to have

that boundary and that respect for your elders.

- He needs to come out here and do it in front of the crowd.

- Do it, and do it quick. One more.


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