Interview with an Indigenous Chef: Brian Yazzie

Name: Brian Yazzie 
Location: Saint Paul, MN 
Education/background: Associate of applied science in culinary arts 
Business name: Yazzie The Chef, Yazzie The Chef TV, Intertribal Foodways, The Yaz Podcast 
Tribal affiliation: Dine’/Navajo 

Brian Yazzie aka Yazzie The Chef (Diné/Navajo) is a chef and food justice activist from Dennehotso, AZ, and is based out of Saint Paul, MN. He is the founder of Intertribal Foodways catering company, a YouTube creator under Yazzie The Chef TV, a delegate of Slow Food Turtle Island Association, and a member at I-Collective, a collective of cooks, chefs, seed keepers, farmers, foragers, and scholars, focused on bringing awareness to the cultural appropriations of Indigenous foods of the Americas. 

Yazzie’s career is devoted to the betterment of tribal communities through wellness, and health. His TV and media appearances include Independent Lens, Alter-NATIVE and Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi. Yazzie was recently appointed Executive Chef at Gatherings Café, located inside the Minneapolis American Indian Center and is currently working with volunteers to deliver support via hot meals to Native Elder communities within the Twin Cities area.  

Chef Brian Yazzie in the kitchen
Chef Brian Yazzie

What led to your passion for indigenous foods? 
I found my passion for food and cooking at the age of 7. Living in a single parent household, food was our community bond as a family. It wasn’t until I was in my first semester of culinary school at Saint Paul Community College that I really found my passion. A couple of my peers wanted to do a challenge of perfecting a dish from a certain cuisine. I started searching for Indigenous cookbooks and recipes online on Indigenous food cultures of North America specifically, and there wasn’t much of a resource base or a network community like we have today within the Indigenous Food Sovereignty Movement.  

I wanted to highlight a dish beyond the general common sense of fluffy Navajo/Indian Tacos and mutton sandwiches. I wanted to reflect my vision and goals as an inspiring culinarian. Sure, my peers were nose deep in celebrity chef cookbooks and glossing over the latest trend of garnishes and plating techniques, while I was on the archive databases of tribal/local/national museums and other resource entities researching regional tribal food cultures and protocols of animal clan systems and ceremonial appropriations. My first Indigenous dish as a culinary student was a seasonal salad consisting of an intertribal three sisters cultivated plant relatives sourced from multiple regions.  The dish was erved with fresh dandelion greens, wild ramps, Mnisota water cress, puffed amaranth, toasted sunflower seeds, and a sweetgrass-maple vinaigrette. 

Why do you think it’s important to make traditional foods accessible for Natives? 
Our communities are the center of our work in helping to re-indigenize our food systems. Food access shouldn’t be a conflict when fishing and/or hunting on our own ancestral lands and waterways. Food access shouldn’t be an obstacle for families and elders, especially in rural areas where the nearest gas station or a market is an hour drive or a four-hour hike. Food access shouldn’t be a budget issue for our youth in tribal and boarding school institutions where commodity foods and highly processed foods are still in rotation on the line. Food is part of our identity as indigenous peoples and I love seeing the continued cultivation and the agricultural growth of ancestral seed ways and revitalization of micro plant habitats across the Americas.    

 What is the importance of an indigenous diet for a healthy lifestyle? 
Our bodies and palates are familiarized and in relationship with our identity through food. The story of the Anishinaabe people and wild rice is one of countless beautiful and resilient stories of how food is important to our indigenous diets and lifestyle. Who are we as a people without our edible landscape and waterways?   

What other ways (besides your business) are you involved in the education, restoration and accessibility of traditional Native foods? 
I am a mentor to a couple of aspiring cook and chefs. I love to network and share the latest resources on food sovereignty. As a food activist, I try my best to do my part on educating and bringing awareness to appropriations on indigenous foodways.  

How can community members be involved and support the cause of restoring and protecting indigenous food systems? 
I highly encourage supporting local tribal resources and restaurants when it comes to American cuisine and/or romanticized holidays. Experience and gain knowledge on the realities of a cuisine that has been put on the back burner. Support frontline braves and warriors who are fighting for our food sovereignty rights. 

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