Interview with an Indigenous Chef: Crystal Wahpepah


Crystal Wahpepah headshot

Name: Crystal Wahpepah

Location: Oakland, California

Business name: Owner, Wahpepah’s Kitchen

Tribe: Kickapoo 

What led to your passion for Indigenous foods?

I always loved Native foods and I got to cook at a young age with family. It came so natural for me to be in the kitchen, like it was my gateway to happiness. Since I was 7 I always wondered why we never saw Native restaurants in the Bay area,  so I always felt I had to contribute in some way to have people and my community see and taste how beautiful Indigenous foods are. 

I cook for my family a lot and with my community in Oakland, California. They all supported me to go to school and help me build my business slowly. Then one catering job to another led me on this path that I call my love and passion for these beautiful foods .

Why do you think it’s important to make traditional foods accessible for Natives?

It is very important to our health and wellness. It’s a beautiful path to healing from historical trauma and colonization in our homes and communities. It should be natural for us to have these foods, but it’s not; so, we have to fight extra hard to make these foods accessible to people. 

What is the importance of an Indigenous diet for a healthy lifestyle?

It is very important, especially to our children. We as adults need to make it natural to our children so they can live long, healthy lives without health problems.

What other ways (besides your business) are you involved in the education, restoration and accessibility of traditional Native foods?

I work as a culinary mentor for the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance to guide future chefs that want to serve their community. I also volunteer when I can to make healthy Indigenous foods for our community. 

How can community members be involved and support the cause of restoring and protecting Indigenous food systems?

They should learn about their tribe’s foods and help grow gardens in their communities.  I live in an urban area and it’s important for communities to have access to these Indigenous foods, and for native elders and families to educate and participate in activities to pass on the knowledge to younger generations.