Various nuts and seeds

A Partnership Exploring Indigenous Foods

Beth Dooley ’75, award-winning food writer and author

Sean Sherman, an Oglala Lakota chef who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and Beth Dooley ’75, a Minneapolis-based food writer and author of articles, blogs and books, recently won the 2018 James Beard Award for best American cookbook with their publication The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, an exploration of the indigenous foods in Minnesota and the Dakotas. In the food world, this is the equivalent of winning an Oscar. 

Recently, food enthusiast and fellow Laurentian Martha Smith Vining ’80 spoke with Dooley about her role in the creation of this book and her career as a food writer.

Martha Vining (MV): Beth, can you talk a little about how The Sioux Chef came about?

Beth Dooley (BD): Sean’s vision was to discover what made up the indigenous food system and how that could apply to a contemporary kitchen. He has done a lot of research on all aspects of Native American history looking at it through the prism of indigenous ingredients, especially plants and pre-European culture cooking techniques. There’s a lot of information there, but Sean has really peeled back a lot of the layers to a rudimentary authentic level. 

This food is part of our history. That being said, the recipes in Sioux Chef are very compatible with today’s current food trends using local, seasonal, gluten-free ingredients.

Going beyond the recipes, a lot of small scale agriculture today is re-discovering techniques such as companion planting, seed saving, and permaculture that is the basis of an indigenous food system. It’s about living with a lighter footprint. These elements were already in the ancient Native American culture and are being appreciated again.

MV: How did you connect with Sean?

BD: Sean was doing a lot of lectures, cooking classes, and dinners about native indigenous food. The idea of writing a cookbook was something he wanted to do, but he was really too busy to devote himself to the task. A mutual photographer friend introduced us, and I was available to help put Sioux Chef together with him. This book is Sean Sherman’s story. 

MV: What got you into the food writing world after graduation?

BD: I always loved to cook. I lived in an apartment at St. Lawrence and cooked with friends as well as cooking for a summer job. An art professor let me use bread dough in a project for a sculpture class. After graduation, I moved to Minneapolis, wrote for newspapers, and worked in advertising and public relations for small publishers. It was the right time to get into food: CSAs were starting up, I took cooking classes, and read cookbooks while the local food movement was growing. Rachel Carson was an influence as well as Moosewood Cookbook

MV: Winning the James Beard Award will shine a light on native North American food systems. Why should we be interested in indigenous food?

BD: It’s astounding how many native ingredients are available to us if we take the time to look for them. Being involved with this book makes me hopeful. It’s Sean’s story, but it’s a means to engage us with the difficult history of Native Americans and Europeans that’s been ignored for a long time. There’s a healing power of inviting people together and consuming a meal. By reintroducing local foods to an indigenous community, we connect with our past and each other.

Martha Smith Vining ’80 has worked in food service for 40 years. Her culinary career began with making popcorn for hockey games at Appleton Arena. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina. 

Beth Dooley â75, award-winning food writer and author