Food that has ‘sustained for generations’

As described by ITVS, “Alter-NATIVE: Kitchen,” from award-winning independent filmmaker Billy Luther and co-produced by Independent Television Service (ITVS), highlights three Native chefs who are creating a new diet of traditional inspired cuisine. The six-episode, digital docuseries chronicles the work of Navajo/Diné Chef Brian Yazzie, Pawnee–Athabaskian Chef Hillel Echo-Hawk, and Hawaiian Chef Kalā Domingo—each of whom prepares foods that have sustained their communities for generations. Image via Cybelle Codish

Vincent Schilling

‘alter-Native: Kitchen’ from Independent Lens by Native filmmaker Billy Luther highlights three Indigenous chefs

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Billy Luther, Dine’, has recently released the latest in his alter-Native YouTube docuseries titled “alter-Native: Kitchen.” It features three Indigenous chefs “all preparing foods from their Native cultures that have sustained their communities for generations.”

The three Indigenous chefs featured in the series are Brian Yazzie, a Diné chef from Arizona who now resides in Minnesota, Hawaiian culinary student Kalā Domingo, and the chef and caterer Hillel Echo-Hawk, Pawnee-Athabaskan, who hails from Seattle.

Luther received acclaim for his 2007 documentary “Miss Navajo,” based on Navajo contestants vying for the Miss Navajo Nation pageant crown. The first part of his “alter-Native” series in 2018 featured designer Bethany Yellowtail, Crow.

Billy Luther
Filmmaker Billy Luther, far left oversees the creation of “alter-Native: Kitchen." Photo by Cybelle Codish.

See related: YouTube alter-Native series highlights Native fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail

Luther expressed to Indian Country Today in an email his thoughts on “alter-Native: Kitchen.”

“Making this series was one of the best experiences I've had. Traveling with each of the chefs really helped me understand where they were coming from,” wrote Luther. “I loved watching them tell their stories about choices on ingredients and connections to their communities.”

Luther also wrote, “I know there is youth out there in Native country that will see this and look at Brian, Hillel, and Kala as inspiration.”

Here are the "alter-NATIVE: Kitchen" episodes with the accompanying descriptions as listed on the Independent Lens site and on YouTube.

How This Navajo Chef Brings His Native Food Traditions Back | Ep. 1

Brian Yazzie, a Diné/Navajo traveling chef now based in St. Paul, MN, does presentations demonstrating Native cooking across the country while mentoring Native youth. Brian uses modern techniques with Indigenous ingredients, and he himself had a great mentor in the James Beard Award-winning Sean Sherman, founder of "The Sioux Chef." See Brian prep amazing dishes like sumac duck confit with acorn squash, mushroom and sunflower shoots, turnips and sunchoke puree, sweetgrass-infused beet puree, and his very popular wild rice bowl.

What Native Elders Think About Indigenous Cooking | Ep. 2

Brian Yazzie, a Diné/Navajo traveling chef now based in St. Paul, MN, brings Native cuisine back home to the Navajo Nation in Arizona. There he looks for truly Indigenous ingredients, as even "classic" Native comfort foods like fry bread have colonizer origins. Brian plans to make meals for a small group, just his family and local community leaders, but when word spreads and suddenly he's cooking for a large group of curious and impatient community elders, how will Brian impress them? Watch him make blue corn mash with agave syrup and seeds, plus Navajo steamed corn soup, in a crammed kitchen full of curious elders who think he should be on "Rachel Ray."

Why This Young Hawaiian Chef Still Cooks Underground | Ep. 3

In traditional Hawaiian culture, it was important for food to take you closer to the Gods. Come to Oahu, Hawai'i, where young chef Kalā Domingo, a culinary student who also works for his father's catering company, gives Native Hawaiian kids a taste of this godly, traditional food, showing them where their food comes from--including making sure pigs are Ma'e ma'e (clean) — prepping sugar cane and banana leaves, cooking with kuleana (responsibility) — and making the whole thing come together in an Imu, a pit oven or underground steam cooker.

Are There Too Many Cooks In This Hawaiian Kitchen? | Ep. 4

Kalā Domingo, a culinary student in Hawaii, cooks with his caterer father for an Indigenous conference in Maui and a reception in Oahu, where they make dishes like Hō'i'o/Pohole salad, 'uala (Hawaiian sweet potato) with chipotle cream cheese and local pea tendril, kimchi, a delicious version of traditional poi, and a poke using fresh local ingredients. They also incorporate non-native seaweed (limu) as a way of paying respects to the late ethnobotanist Dr. Isabella Aiona Abbott, the first Native Hawaiian woman to earn a Ph.D. in science, who is being honored in Oahu. Will father and son butt heads in a busy, crowded kitchen, or make it happen?

What Is “Pre-Colonial” Cooking? | Ep. 5

Seattle-based chef Hillel Echo-Hawk focuses on traditional Pawnee foods, before Columbus and colonization, which means no dairy, no chicken, no processed sugar, all foods that led to an increase in obesity among Native people. Her catering company, which emphasizes hiring an all-Native staff, is preparing for its largest gig ever, a Seattle arts event for 100+ people, serving Native cuisine like Pawnee blue corn mush with Ojibwe maple syrup, honey Lakota popcorn, cedar-cooked tepary beans with pine roasted butternut squash, and sweet potatoes with pecans. After a late-night of work, zero sleep, and seemingly everything going wrong, will Hillel and her team be able to pull the event off?

What a Six Course, Gourmet Native American Meal Looks Like | Ep. 6

All three Indigenous chefs featured in alter-NATIVE: Kitchen come together to prepare a multi-course meal of Native cuisine for a select group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Los Angeles. From Brian's agave-roasted rabbit tacos to Kalā's (cooking solo for a change) imu-cooked kalua pork to Hillel's painted like a Pawnee horse black bean salad (made from newly restored heirloom beans grown with love and resistance). And just wait til you get to these talented chefs' "dessert trio."

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Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling and Instagram - @VinceSchilling

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

Comments (2)
No. 1-2
Khari3
Khari3

Uhhhh, I'm so hungry now! What a great story. I wish them every success.


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