The Minneapolis Restaurant Serving Up Exclusively Indigenous Cuisine

Oglala Lakota Sioux chef Sean Sherman — also known as the Sioux Chef — was born on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Still, he didn't grow up eating the foods he now cooks with, notes the IllinoisTimes. Instead, foods that the U.S. government had been distributing to reservations since the 1930s — canned meats, shortening, and cereal — are what he was raised on.

Sherman moved away in his early 20s to work in restaurants, and when the responsibilities of being an executive chef led him to take a year off, he found himself living in a Mexican jungle with people who inspired him to dig deeper into his own culture. He then traveled to tribal areas throughout the United States to learn more about native ingredients, farming practices, and what had been lost over generations.

In response, Sherman formed a team of indigenous chefs, researchers, activists, and foodies who also wanted to revitalize Native American cuisine (via The Sioux Chef). It didn't take long for Sherman's efforts to be recognized, and his work has been rewarded through various fellowships and awards. Additionally, Sherman teamed up with Dana Thompson to create a modern Indigenous full-service restaurant that focuses on serving traditional North American flavors. The establishment's location is a sacred place for the Dakota and Anishinaabe people, describes Resy, and a map is displayed in the main dining room showing the same spot on which the restaurant now sits — but is instead labeled OwamniYomni.

Preserving native flavors and ingredients

"As you might know, it's a wonderful, beautiful, sacred space, and we're just excited to have a restaurant that's extremely unique and kind of the only one out there like it," Sherman told ICT. Unsurprisingly, Owamni has become one of the most difficult restaurants in Minneapolis to get a reservation (per IllinoisTimes).

Owamni prides itself on its diverse team, and dishes are prepared from ingredients that are considered pre-colonial; that means no wheat flour, dairy, cane sugar, chicken, pork, or beef. Instead, the restaurant supports local and national Indigenous food producers and builds dishes around ingredients like fish, birds, insects, wild plants, and Native American heirloom farm varieties — food sources originally found on the land (via Owamni). The restaurant's menu is also listed online in Dakota.

Menu items include trout served with white bean spread, mush made with Ute mountain blue corn, maple, hazelnut, and berries, and Choginyapi corn sandwiches filled with diners' choice of elk, sweet potato, or vegetable purée. For dessert, the maple chaga cake is made from wojape, berries, and candied walnuts, or Sunbutter Bars plate squash, agave, caramel, and toasted sunflower seeds in a colorful presentation.

Because reservations are tricky to score, plan ahead. There's a reason the restaurant snagged a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant.