Chef Sean Sherman Launches The First Indigenous Food Lab In Minneapolis

Minnesota has an illustrious food history, acting as the proud home of Bundt cake, corn dogs, and SPAM. Now, the state can add another feather to its food cap with a history-making market: The Indigenous Food Lab. Helmed by Sean Sherman, the James Beard Award-winning chef behind the indigenous restaurant Owamni, the IFL is the first of its kind, acting as both a retail/food market and educational/research center, all devoted to furthering the public's understanding of Indigenous foods.

This all-encompassing center is run by the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems, a non-profit started by Sherman. Though a part of the center is devoted to selling Indigenous products, of equal importance is the center's role as an educational hub, which will offer classes on food preservation, crafting, and native languages. According to an article in Native News Online, in addition to hosting these classes, Sherman said the organization will make them available online "to create a vault of Indigenous education." 

Meanwhile, casual visitors can enjoy some of the incredible Indigenous food that has made Sherman's Owamni so well regarded and then browse the large collection of Indigenous-sourced products.  

A center devoted to Indigenous foodways

So what should first-time visitors to the new IFL watch for? For food, expect only to see pre-colonial ingredients; the shop is free of wheat products and foods from raised animals like pork, chicken, and dairy. Instead, customers can build dishes from their selection of frozen bison, smoked white fish and lake trout, turkey, and the cornerstone vegetables of corn, beans, and squash. For something sweet, the Indigenous kitchen turns out sunflower seed cookies and single-origin cacao chocolates. To wash it all down, customers can go to the tea bar, where Indigenous teas can be spiced with chipotles or sweetened with rose petals. As for products, expect everything from lip balms to cookbooks, as well as some take-home food, like frozen game meat and classic masa tortillas. 

As stated on the NATIFS website, this food lab is intended as a pilot program, with the hope that it can eventually take root in other Indigenous homelands, like Hawaii and Alaska. Sherman called out Anchorage, Oahu, and Rapid City in the Dakotas as the next hopeful locations of an IFL. As he told Native News Online, "We want to get Indigenous food products all over the place, so, this little market has big plans."