How Owamni became the best new restaurant in the US

How Owamni became the best new restaurant in the US


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In the summer of 2021, Sean Sherman, the forty-eight-year-old Oglala Lakota chef, opened a restaurant called Owamni, in Minneapolis. Almost overnight, it became the most prominent example of Native American cuisine in the United States. Each dish is prepared without wheat flour, dairy products, cane sugar, black pepper or any other ingredient that was introduced to this continent after the arrival of the Europeans. Sherman describes food as “decolonised.” His business partner and co-owner of Aumni, Dana Thompson, calls her “ridiculously foreign.” In June, the James Beard Foundation chose Owamni as the best new restaurant in the United States.

One evening in May, I met Sherman outside Umney, which is in a park on the Mississippi River. Across the street, the water plunged 50 feet below St. Anthony’s Falls. The area was once the site of a Dakota village known as Owamniyomni – the place where the swirling water fell. Sherman pulled out his phone and showed me an eighteenth-century drawing of breadcrumbs on the shore of the Falls. “Obviously there is a village here. People all over said. ”But the Europeans were, like, ‘Now you are called Saint Anthony!'”

Inside, the dining room is flooded with wall light from the windows. A waiter named Thor Bearstail offered glasses of red wine. (Owamni breaks the rule of decolonization with drinks, serving coffee, beer, and wine.) Bearstail, like the rest of the staff, wore a black T-shirt with “#86colonialism” on the back. Eighty-six indicates, in kitchen vernacular, that the plate has run out. A month ago, Bearstail, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, of North Dakota, moved from Fargo to Minneapolis to work for Owamni. His previous job was at Red Lobster. “Sometimes I have to push myself,” he said.

American carnivores tend to think in terms of beef, pork, and chicken. Omni reminds them that the farm animals with picture books are not indigenous to this continent. My first dish was raw deer, or “game sand,” listed under a menu section titled “Wamakhaskan,” the Dakota word for the animal. The dish was a study in circles: meat pressed flat and dotted with pickled carrots, moons of duck egg aioli and sumac, baby greens, and berries. Blue corn tostada as a vase. One bite was a disco ball in the woods.

Other wamkhaskan dishes were also served: a disk of duck sausage with arugula purée and roasted turnip; ground elk, served on scrambled corn; A mixture of cricket and seeds of maple and chili. “We eat fifteen pounds of crickets a week,” Sherman said. He is of solid build, with large dark eyes, and was wearing a black chef’s jacket, an Apple Watch, and a bear necklace; His hair hanging in a braid up to his waist. “It’s a lot,” he said. “Cockroaches don’t weigh much.”

“I’m going to go do some laundry and exercise and take a shower.”

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Sherman often says that the gastronomy that professional chefs have promoted over the past two decades is how Aboriginal people have eaten for thousands of years. Ingredients are local, seasonal, organic. The traditional preservation methods characteristic of Owamni – smoking, fermentation, drying – are prevalent. But the restaurant does not serve a meal in the museum. Food in pre-colonial and modern times. There’s maple baked beans, and rice braised ox with maple vinegar. Wojape, a raspberry Lakota sauce, is served with bean tebari fat and smoked trout. A bowl of chili-striped sweet potatoes, dipped in chili oil, is a Sherman’s favorite. “It’s very home,” he said. “I’ve been eating mostly vegan food for the past year, so this was my go-to solution.”

I ordered a bowl of Manumen, which is hand harvested wild rice. The only place in the world where humans grow is the Great Lakes region. They form part of the origin story of the Ojibwe people, who migrated inland from the east coast centuries ago, following a prophecy of traveling west until they found “food that grows on water”. Manumen is harvested from a canoe, and its kernels are cut from the heads of rice stalks that grow in shallow water. Winona Ladoc, an Ojibwe language activist, wrote that Manumen is “the first food of a child when he eats solid; the last food eaten before it passes into the spirit world.”

In Owamni, it was tender and flavorful, with a sweet, earthy aroma. I could smell the lake. Sherman sources as much of their Umni Food as possible from the original producers. The rice comes from a young Ojibwe couple who own a small farm in northern Minnesota. He said, “I made them bring down seven hundred pounds of rice on that day.” “Just stuffed into their car.”

about 7 evening, two men and a woman, with little wires behind their ears, advance through the dining room. And behind them was a familiar face: Deb Haaland, the US Secretary of the Interior, and the first Native American Cabinet member in US history. She was having dinner with the Vice Governor of Minnesota, Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Ojibwe band and a regular Awamni. (“I want to think it’s like my greetings,” Flanagan told me.) Sherman said hello to the minister, then stopped at my table. “It’s brutal,” he said. “She’s eighth in line for the presidency.”

About two-thirds of Owamni’s employees identify as Aboriginal, as do many of its guests. Novelist Louise Erdrich, who owns a library in Minneapolis, is a frequent visitor. Several cast members of the FX series “Reservation Dogs” dined at Owamni last summer, including D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, the star of the show, who was accompanied by model Quannah Chasinghorse. Leaving, I passed bouquets of colorful wildflowers laid out on the long strip facing the open kitchen. A neon sign at the entrance reads “You’re Homeland.” Outside, Sherman showed a set of fire pits, and noted that the surrounding garden was harvesting rainwater. Nearby, the ruins of the Columbia Flour Mill lit up in amber light. When I commented on it all, Sherman shrugged his shoulders and said, “Different from a church vault, isn’t it?”

I first met Sherman on a frigid night in 2017, when he and Thompson had dinner at First World Church in Minneapolis. At that time, they were both business partners and romantic partners. They ran Sioux Chef, a food truck and catering operation, which Owamni now owns. When I arrived, Thompson, a tall and lively woman, greeted me with maple rice tea. “It’s full of flavonoids!” She said.

The purpose of the dinner – a five-course meal prepared by M. Karlos Baca, an Aboriginal food activist from the Southern Ute Nation – was to announce the launch of a non-profit organization called Natives, or the traditional diets of the indigenous peoples of North America, which promote culinary solutions to economic and health crises. About a hundred people sat at folding tables. Between sessions, Sherman gave a slide show. “Food is language,” he said. “To understand Aboriginal food today, you have to know how we got here.”

Thousands of years ago, indigenous peoples across what became North America cultivated highly productive types of climate-specific plants, including senchus, lamb’s quarters, gourds, knutgrass, and foot. By the 13th century, domesticated corn and sunflowers in green and yellow fire had spread from Mexico to Maine. “We still have the shield hidatsa beans and the yellow arikara beans,” Sherman told our customers. “There’s Lakota squash—great with an orange flame—and gete okosomin,” a lifeguard float-like squash that Baka used in his soup course.

“After those cliffs comes the really hard part – a bunch of guys we don’t know talking about cryptocurrency at the same time.”

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Native Americans hunted game like the bison, which roamed as far east as Buffalo, New York. They harvested fish and shellfish. Tribes in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere have used controlled burns, creating meadows among redwood groves where desirable plants thrive and animals graze. Everywhere, people were telling stories and singing songs about their food; In many indigenous languages, plants and animals are referred to as people. “The diet of our ancestors, it was an almost perfect diet,” Sherman continued. “This is what the Paleo diet wants: gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free.”

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