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Diabetic-Friendly Cooking Class Gets Lesson From Chef at Mitsitam Native Foods Café

Citizens from the four tribes of Kansas enjoyed a hands-on cooking lesson for better health at the 2nd Annual Intertribal Solutions Cooking Class, November 15-16 at the Prairie Band Casino and Resort in Mayetta, Kansas.

The cooking class was led by Chef Richard Hetzler, executive chef of the National Museum of the American Indian’s Mitsitam Native Foods Café. Mitsitam means “Let’s eat!” in the language of the Delaware and Piscataway people.

Chef Hetzler was joined by Mitsitam café manager Miriam Menkir to lead the two-day event designed to teach people with diabetes to live well through healthy cooking, weight management, smoking cessation, physical activity and stress reduction.

“It’s an honor for me to be here,” said Hetzler, who told participants that teaching cooking for better health was an opportunity for him to give back and make a positive difference.

Hetzler is a graduate of Baltimore Culinary College and was on the team that researched and developed the concept for the Mitsitam Café, winner of the 2012 “Best Casual Dining Restaurant” Rammy Award from the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. 

Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribal Chairman Steve Ortiz welcomed participants and encouraged healthy eating habits by sharing his own personal battle with diabetes. In 1997, Ortiz was hospitalized after lapsing into a diabetic coma. Generally, a normal blood sugar range is between 80 and 140. Ortiz’s blood sugar reading was over 550.

“The last thing I remember was four guys putting me on a gurney,” Ortiz said. “Then the lights went out.”

Doctors told Ortiz he would not survive if he didn’t change his lifestyle. At age 47, he quit drinking alcohol and began making healthier choices. Today, Ortiz said both his blood pressure and blood sugar are under control. “It’s all about eating right,” said Ortiz, who also quit smoking.

Before heading to the kitchen to prepare dinner with Chef Hetzler, participants heard an educational presentation from Kathy Sterbenz, a registered nurse with the Prairie Band Potawatomi Health Center’s Diabetic Prevention Program.

Sterbenz told participants that physical exercise is “the number one medicine you can give yourself’ and exercising for a minimum of two and a half hours per week would make a huge difference in their lives. “And it costs nothing,” she said.

According to the IHS Division of Diabetes Statistics, diabetes in youth ages 15 to 19 increased 110 percent from 1990 to 2009. The death rate due to diabetes for American Indians and Alaskan Natives is 1.6 times higher compared to the general U.S. population, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Sterbenz urged participants to be more conscious of portion sizes at mealtime. “Most of us in this society have no idea of what a proper portion is,” Sterbenz said. “As we get older, we automatically need to eat less.”

The USDA recommends using nine-inch plates or a nine-inch area of a larger plate divided into four quarters of fruit, vegetables, grains or starch, and a healthy protein such as poultry or fish. “Buffalo is excellent,” Sterbenz said. “It has significantly less fat than beef does.”

Hetzler then led the cooks to the kitchen of the Prairie Band Casino and Resort where they donned aprons and gloves to prepare a healthy dinner made from fresh ingredients for family and guests.

The diabetic-friendly menu featured a wild arugula salad with chopped walnuts and grilled corn off the cobb, a chili and chocolate-dusted salmon filet, served with an anasazi bean puree, brussel sprouts and red wine maple reduction cinnamon. For dessert, participants prepared an apple tarte with a whole wheat crust, honey and vanilla infused greek yogurt topped with an assortment of fresh berries.

After enjoying the meal they prepared with invited family and friends, participants went home with a gift bag of cooking utensils and a diabetes-specific cookbook.

The 2nd Annual Intertribal Solutions Cooking Class was made possible by an Association of American Indian Physicans (AAIP) CDC grant to decrease complications from diabetes in partnership with the Kickapoo Diabetes Coalition and AARP Kansas.

“The partnership between AAIP and AARP has been fabulous,” said Maren Turner, AARP Kansas Director. 

“We have had nothing but positive comments on the class, the meal and the gift bags,” said Janis Simon, AAIP Outreach Specialist.

The dates have already been set for the next cooking class: November 7-8, 2013.