Flavors of Manhattan

 Photo Courtesy of James Beard House

Photo Courtesy of James Beard House

“It started over a cup of cedar maple tea”

By Alex Jimerson


Some people know it as the “Carnegie Hall of Cuisine” for chefs as they are artists in their own right, and rightfully so. The way a 5-course meal is orchestrated like a symphony to the tunes of hot plates clanging, knives serving the bass line thudding rhythmically against a cutting board, the expediter shouting to servers the need for an additional plate at a table. Organized chaos comes to mind with so many moving parts from front of house to back of house.

It was a surreal feeling just occupying space in the coveted kitchen of James Beard a place where chefs envision their careers taking them. It would be neglect if I fail to write down my thoughts as for one night I helped prepare a dinner at the James Beard Foundation and just to think it all started over a cup of cedar maple tea. Not over a cocktail or a coffee and as it should be as Sean Sherman only uses indigenous North American ingredients pre-1492 in his cooking.

Sean, an Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Having worked in kitchens since the age of thirteen it's safe to say he knows his way around a kitchen and one as small as James Beard House served him no challenge. On October 27th we prepared a 5-course dinner for a sold-out 80 guests.

 A Spirit Plate is offered before the feast begins, an acknowledgement of respect and gratitude to Mother Earth for her unrequited gifts. Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Hoover. 

A Spirit Plate is offered before the feast begins, an acknowledgement of respect and gratitude to Mother Earth for her unrequited gifts. Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Hoover. 

Me, an anxious but passionate graduate student riveted about food culture introduced myself to Sean and we toasted to our shared passion of reviving our ancestral food culture at the 13th annual Indigenous Farming Conference. The frigid winter temps in northwestern Minnesota may have deterred the timid but for the initiated and the fearless the White Earth Ojibwe are gracious hosts. Teas, coffees, soups and the warm glow of birch on the fireplace made for an intimate and cozy gathering. Where strangers became friends in common interest of farming and living off the land. A continued friendship through the sharing and posting on social media.

I’ve followed the journey of The Sioux Chef company from Tatanka Food Truck in Minneapolis to largest funded restaurant Kickstarter page it’s been an exciting voyage and I’m glad to be witnessing it. Aside from the knowledge attained in the classroom I’ve placed endearment on the teachings from life-experience. Valuing relationships and the power of confidence have come to the forefront during my time in New York City. It’s fair to say I’ve seen the importance of both in my adolescence with cherishing friendships, however in terms of networking and facilitating relationships to engage with event-planning and symposium-facilitating I can attest the significance with valuing and “putting work” into relationships. They aren’t just something you can fake, or embellish, the truth will come out eventually.

It is one thing to have healthy relationships with your colleagues but it's another to attain the confidence to initiate or making space for yourself in these “food spaces”. It’s not an easy industry to navigate, speaking from my experience and conversations surrounding those  in media, professional kitchens, policy & advocacy, entrepreneurship, etc. It’s a tough industry to break into. Being willing to put yourself out there, fully authentic with integrity to get your story noticed takes confidence at the expense of your comfort. But perseverance is key I’ve picked myself up after making a fool of myself and in over my head at times with communicating and managing studies, work and family life.

Grad school in New York City can be daunting hell it can be straight up frightening. It’s adulting, trying to become a professional and scraping by to hold onto your youth as the days pass. Exhausting. Yes. Uncomfortable. Yes. Feeling like you aren’t making any traction. Absolutely. But as my favorite quote by Chief Dan George “Endeavor to persevere” But as I’ve found my footing in this food studies program, I can gladly say that practicing confidence and valuing relationships has led me to a place of momentary fulfillment. Goals are yet to be accomplished and one should never get comfortable in complacency but it’s so important to reflect on the wins.

So when I say “it started over a cup of cedar maple tea” I mean my exercise in confidence and my value on healthy relationships started over a soothing warm beverage. It is through the social ritual of “cheering” I was able to initiate conversation and engage with heavy-hitters in the food industry. It helped feed into a successful fall 2017 semester for me as I helped cook a monumental meal at the James Beard House and also co-organized and co-facilitated the first annual Indigenous Food Sovereignty Gathering at NYU. I guess you can say confidence and relationships are my beginning flavors of Manhattan and I’m sure there are more to come before I’m out of this city.

 Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Hoover

Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Hoover

Alex Jimerson