MSU Culinary Services to host Nov. 13 indigenous dinner in dining halls

Tuesday Nov. 12th, 2019

In a celebration of indigenous people and local foods, MSU Culinary Services will host its second annual Indigenous Dinner on Nov. 13 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. in Miller Dining Commons and Rendezvous Dining Pavilion. Both campus dining halls will be open to the public. 

Aside from fruits and greens, the dinner will feature food that is locally sourced and tribally sourced when possible. KayAnn Miller, executive sous chef for Miller Dining Commons, said that the dinner has two missions: to educate patrons about foods they may not have realized are indigenous to this country and to help people understand what it was like to eat prior to the colonization of the Americas.

During the early reservation period, “if you (went) to the reservation, you didn’t get to eat these (indigenous) foods anymore. You were given flour and lard and sugar,” Miller said. “I see this as a reclaiming of these foods, reclaiming the land and understanding the idea that there were people here before and they had a rocking food scene.” 

At each food station in the dining halls, chefs were given the chance to choose ingredients to create unique dishes that highlight the versatility of native ingredients. For instance, at the stir fry bar in Miller, there will be an indigenous pho bar featuring juniper-braised bison, bison bone broth and toppers of corn shoots, watercress, mint and jalapenos. Other dishes to be featured include smoked venison sausages, Gitksan grilled salmon steaks, spicy Aztec hot chocolate, Choctaw alligator andouille and filé sausage jalapeno pizza, and southwest elk ravioli in Hatch green chile dough.  

Miller said chefs were given creative freedom for these dinners because it is fun for them to work with ingredients they may have never seen before and curiosity leads to creativity in the kitchen. 

“It can be challenging as a chef because you’re so used to having all these ingredients available to you and then you take away 70% of what you use daily, but it’s a really fun thing to experiment with, and these dinners broaden your horizons as well,” said Sam Garber, a chef in Miller Dining Commons who will prepare meals at the stir fry station. 

The presence of indigenous foods has been growing on MSU’s campus the past year. The first indigenous dinner was held in the fall 2018 semester, the brainchild of executive chef Jill Flores. And Miller worked to incorporate indigenous foods into the menu of the campus food truck, Fork in the Road, by cooking up a tour of the Americas featuring indigenous foods from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America. 

That same year, Sean Sherman, the “Sioux Chef,” who is recognized internationally for raising awareness of indigenous food systems in a modern context, came to MSU and worked with the Culinary Services team. He emphasized that it is not hard to feature indigenous foods and that they are available to anyone who takes the time to forage or seek out native vendors.

“For Culinary Services, it really gave momentum to the idea that we could feature these foods and we could bring some economic development emphasis because we are such a large purchaser,” Miller said. “It’s helping roll these foods out not only here on campus, but out to a larger audience.”

Another group has also benefitted from wider availability of indigenous foods on campus: Creative Nations, a group for indigenous students in the College of Arts and Architecture, said JoDee Palin, assistant dean of the college.

“It started a conversation among us,” Palin said. “We would talk about decolonizing spaces that have been colonized, and this is the biggest one we could do. Because it’s our bodies and we can take back control of our bodies with good food.” 

With the help of longtime MSU supporter Sherry Keller Brown, Creative Nations has worked with Culinary Services to include indigenous foods into the group’s regular lunch gatherings. The hope among Palin, Miller and Brown is that the dishes help the students learn more about and have a piece of their culture.

“I have such a passion to help people help themselves,” Brown said. “I want them to be proud of who they are and where they come from.”

This is the first semester that Culinary Services has made indigenous foods available for the Creative Nations lunches. Miller said that next semester the homestyle section of Miller will permanently feature indigenous foods every Thursday the Creative Nations students meet, and it will be there for all students and guests to experience. 

“It’s just amazing (that) we are having this dinner,” Palin said of the Nov. 13 dinner. “I think about the time KayAnn put into finding these recipes, doing the research on what things are indigenous. It overwhelms me that we’ll all be able to sit down together and eat all this together in the dining hall.”