FOOD: Let’s eat: The executive chef of the Mitsitam Cafe whips up a cookbook
Washington, D.C.—Chocolate, chiles, tomatoes, blueberries and corn are just a few of the ingredients of Indigenous American cooking, showcased in “The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook” ($22.95) from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and Fulcrum Press.
Author and executive chef Richard Hetzler shares recipes for 90 dishes with colorful photography and archival photographs of similar recipes being prepared by the Native peoples whose cooking inspires the popular Mitsitam Cafe at the museum in Washington, D.C.
“Native food reconnects us to the land,” Hetzler says. “Simple, abundant and—most of all—flavorful, it is life-giving and a way of life.”
From roasted venison and Peruvian ceviche to pork pibil tacos and quinoa salad, the new cookbook offers the café’s modern perspective on foods that have been raised and harvested or hunted and gathered from the wild in North and South America for thousands of years. Mitsitam (mitt-SEE-tom) means “let’s eat” in the Piscataway and Delaware languages.
Hetzler has said that before the museum’s opening in September 2004, there was a debate about what food the cafe should serve. At the time most of the restaurants in the Smithsonian Institution’s 19 museums, galleries and National Zoological Park served hamburgers and hotdogs, he said. But this museum cafe would be an extension of the American Indian museum.
Hetzler was on the team that developed the groundbreaking concept for the cafe: serving indigenous foods that are staples of the five regions: Northern Woodlands, South America, Meso American, the Great Plains, and the Northwest Coast. At lunchtime snaking lines of intrigued diners crane to read menu boards and ask about regional specialties.
The cookbook contains a glossary of Native ingredients, as well as a list of websites and specialty markets from which these foods can be ordered. Hetzler’s step-by-step instructions make cooking even unfamiliar ingredients doable.
“Every recipe in the book has been home-tested,” Hetzler told Jess Righthand in a blog on Smithsonian.com. “The staff at the museum each took three or four recipes home, made them and critiqued them, and we adjusted the recipes. One of the pushes behind the book was to really find and make recipes that any person could make. You don’t have to be a chef to recreate any of it.”
Recipes in the book include:
- Cedar-Planked Fire-Roasted Salmon
- Smoked Trout and Dandelion Green Sandwiches
- Corn and Chocolate Tamales
- Fiddlehead Fern Salad
- Squash Blossom Soup
- Buffalo Chili and Fry Bread
- Sugarcane and Mint Agua Fresca
And with each recipe, the book invites the reader to understand more about Native peoples and how they harvest the ingredients and what these ingredients mean to their cultures.
The book is available at bookstores nationwide, at Amazon.com and through the museum stores at the National Museum of the American Indian. To order go to www.smithsonianstore.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=154781&categoryId=3184&parentCategoryId=3175
To view a video discussion between museum Director Kevin Gover and Mitsitam Cafe Executive Chef Richard Hetzler about Native American culinary traditions, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5AxLfAuGiQ.
The American Indian News Service