Food does so much more than nourish the body and tantalize the taste buds. A meal can spark curiosity and conversations, and bring culture to life. But crafting something so multilayered can be a tall order in our fast food world. Purveyors of America’s Indigenous foods are up for the task, enthusiastically forging a resurgence of dishes that satisfy a new generation hungering for insight and a connection to Native culinary delights.
“Alter-NATIVE: Kitchen,” from award-winning independent filmmaker Billy Luther and co-produced by Independent Television Service (ITVS), highlights three Native chefs who are creating a new diet of traditionally inspired cuisine. The six-episode, digital docuseries chronicles the work of Navajo/Diné Chef Brian Yazzie, Pawnee–Athabaskian Chef Hillel Echo-Hawk, and Hawaiian Chef Kalā Domingo—each of whom prepares foods that have sustained their communities for generations.
Yazzie, originally from Arizona and currently based in Minnesota, works to bring Indigenous cuisine back to his reservation, drawing from the work of his mentor, the Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman. In Seattle, Chef Echo-Hawk focuses on pre-colonial Native dishes as she caters widespread events. Domingo, a culinary student in Hawaii and heir to his dad’s catering business, delves into the traditional art of imu cooking—or preparing meals in an underground oven.
Featuring dishes such as wild rice bowls and sumac duck confit, poke, imu-cooked kalua pig, and honey Lakota popcorn, the series explores how cooking connects each chef to their history, and what they in turn can teach others as they work tirelessly to reimagine and reintroduce traditional foods.