‘It tastes like the ocean’ — chefs taste the importance of Indigenous foods

Telling Alaska’s Story
‘It tastes like the ocean’ — chefs taste the importance of Indigenous foods
Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 6:31 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The busy kitchen smelled like reindeer soup and cod tacos. A side of chips sat in black packages and would be served with sea asparagus salsa.

“I don’t know anywhere else in town you can get sea asparagus salsa,” Amy Foote, the executive chef at the Alaska Native Medical Center said.

Frybread sizzled while chef Sean Sherman, Oglala Lakota chef and James Beard Award winner, and Foote walked, and ate, their way through the kitchen at ANMC.

The James Beard Award is sometimes referred to as the Oscars of the food world.

Foote pulled two green, bubble-like baby bull kelps from a kitchen tin for herself and Sherman.

Both chefs bit down.

“It tastes like the ocean,” Foote said. “It’s really clean.”

It will be served either lightly steamed or pickled with rice.

“We serve close to 10,000 pounds of this a year,” Foote said.

The hospital kitchen is run by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Part of its mission statement is to provide healthy eating and food security.

“ANTHC helps promote the knowledge and use of traditional foods and traditional ways that support Alaska Native health,” ANTHC’s website reads.

ANMC provides medical services to almost 160,000 Alaska Natives and is a 173-bed hospital that serves a vast variety of medical needs, according to the ANMC website.

The kitchen here has accepted food donations since 2014. It’s meant thousands of pounds of berries, moose, caribou, salmon, and seal oil will be cooked and served to the thousands of people who eat here every day.

The staff even makes its own frybread.

“Endless frybread,” one chef said as he pushed down fat balls of white dough into the traditional shape. “Oh my gosh we must do like 1,200 of these.”

Foote and Sherman have known each other for many years. After watching him give a speech on Indigenous foods, Foote knew she’d found a lifelong friend, which is why one recent weekday morning she lead him on a tour of the hospital kitchen.

“It’s really important that we start to bring that back,” Sherman said about Indigenous foods, “especially for our own health, because we have some many issues, in so many different Native communities around food born illness, like type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease. And if we switched to a more healthier, more Ingenious focused diets, we could really overcome and a lot of those diseases.”

Foote agreed.

“I’ll have patients smell seal soup in the hallway and be texting someone back in the Village ‘it smells like home,’ that in itself is really powerful,” Foote said.

Sherman opened The Sioux Chef in 2014 and quickly became nationally known for using Indigenous foods ‘in a modern culinary context.’

Both chefs agree that the key to a healthier lifestyle is reclaiming traditional foods — especially in places like hospitals.

“Our food was something that’s been taken from us largely to lack of land access, hunting rights and situations like that, gathering, and it’s going to be really important for us to figure out more methods of getting traditional Indigenous foods back into our Indigenous communities,” Sherman said. “For the sack of our happiness but also for the sake of our health.”

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