VERMILLION, S.D. – Chef Brian Yazzie may have grown up far from South Dakota in Arizona’s Navajo Nation but for the 500 people who enjoyed the traditional indigenous meals he prepared at the 46th annual University of South Dakota Tiospaye Student Council Wacipi, he brought with him a taste of home.
"The goal is just returning back to our natural flavor, the indigenous flavor of North America,” Yazzie said, who cooked at the 8th annual Native American Alumni Dinner and for the Wacipi participants April 6-8. “You can go to any block in any city and get all types of cuisine in the world, but you can’t get any from our own backyard.”
The traditional meals reflected local ingredients. The alumni dinner menu included sage braised bison with amaranth gravy, wild oregano roasted turkey, wild rice pilaf with fiddlehead ferns, squash, turnips and wild ramps. The meal Saturday centered on a soup of beans and squash with fiddlehead ferns and ramps.
“The food is the center of each home for every family So to enjoy an indigenous meal while we’re talking about indigenous awareness is great,” he said.
In addition to the cultural revitalization inherent in indigenous food, Yazzie touted the health benefits. “It’s just going back to the basics. The fad trend diet is the paleo diet, that’s just going back to ancestral food,” he said. “We didn’t have white sugar or gluten. Our natural sweeteners are agave, maple and honey.”
Yazzie is a member of Sioux Chef Catering based out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota-area. The Sioux Chef team recently started a new project called NATIFS or North American Traditional Indigenous Food System. The non-profit organization’s goal is to open a culinary center for elders and youth to help them learn their ancestral food. Yazzie also has his own brand - Yazzie the Chef.
"It’s a big university. Some students here are from my tribe in the Southwest but there are also students here from Alaska and Florida,” Yazzie said. “They’re away from home and just to give them a simple taste of some of their indigenous food is a way to help them feel like they’re at home.”