I missed one foodie trend in my recent predictions for 2014.
I never imagined designers would be leaving their mark on the culinary world.
A recent article in The New York Times, entitled Matters of Taste, spotlighted Susana Soares, a designer and researcher in London, who has a project that grinds bugs into powder form, then mixes that with butter or cream cheese and some other flavorings to tantalize our taste buds. She terms her creation "insects au gratin".
One of the earliest catalysts of the bug-dining movement was Vincent Holt, who in 1885 suggested to the St. Paul Daily Globe that insects could act as a primary food source for humans: "insects are all vegetable feeders, clean, palatable, wholesome, and decidedly more particular in their feeding than ourselves," he said.
Another designer is actually breeding bugs for consumption in his own kitchen.
“You can farm them at home, which you can’t do with cattle,” Mansour Ourasanah, a Chicago-based industrial designer originally from Togo, Africa, told the Times. Ourasanah added that the world population is currently 7 billion and expected to grow to more than 9 billion by 2050, so alternative food sources, like bugs, may become a necessity.
Bugs are not the only focus of designers, though. Soares, for one, is also using new technology, a 3-D printer, to turn food into edible, filigreed configurations—some quite beautiful.
“They look like jewelry on purpose,” Soares said—visually appealing to entice people to eat it.
Desserts seem to be the food of choice for the ChefJet printer, especially wedding cake toppers, which can later be permanently preserved in porcelain.
Also in culinary fashion is "food design" or "eating design," like self-humidifying bowls, honeycomb-shaped honey jars, edible plates, self-cleaning dishes, biodegradable school lunch plates and trays, and more.
“I’m interested in this sort of virtualization,” David Edwards, an American scientist and inventor who founded Le Laboratoire, what he calls “a cultural lab,” in Paris, told the Times.“So much of a great culinary experience is sensorial in a way that goes beyond caloric content.”
Edwards is also instrumental in a global effort to reduce wasteful packaging by creating naturally self-contained foods, similar to the way a grape is encased in its skin. His company WikiPearls has launched a number of foods from ice cream and yogurt to soup—all sold in edible skins.
While all this futuristic culinary play is going on, I can’t help but wonder what is happening in Native American foodways. It has been an awful winter, weatherwise, with folks holding on to what they have, and hanging on, waiting for spring.
Native Americans as a whole are not in the least unfamiliar with cold, snow, winds, drought, flooding or any other wicked weather nature can throw at us. We are comfortable with tried and true traditions; warm slow-cooked foods are just fine. At a cursory glance, it may appear that things are flat in Indian country. But that's not true.
Innovative, Native chefs are reinventing meals with Indigenous ingredients, and creating an identity for "Native food."
Take Nephi Craig for example: the executive chef at the Apache Sunrise Park Resort Hotel is also the founder of the Native American Culinary Association, an organization dedicated to the development of Native American cuisine. And Navajo chef Freddie Bitsoie, founder of FJBits Concepts and star of the TV program Rezervations Not Required, is on a mission to redefine and popularize Indigenous cuisine. Then there's Enrique Alcantar (Pascua Yaqui) of Casino Del Sol Resort, who wows customers with traditional Native foods in contemporary style.
Check out the trailer for Bitsoie's Rezervations Not Required here:
Let's not forget the Indigenous owners of restaurants introducing Indian cuisine to their communities, like the lauded Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro in Vancouver, British Columbia, owned by Inez Cook of the Nuxalk Nation; and Tocabe in Denver, just to name a couple.
Our home cooks—Indigenous grandmas and dads and even kid chefs—also deserve a nod for perfecting special dishes and planting gardens.
We also have Native educators and farmers throughout Indian country working to revitalize agricultural programs, both new and traditional.
One such idea brings edible gardens to schools on reservations allowing, students to tend them. Lena Clitso (Dine) is coordinator for this program in Tuba City, Arizona.
Kyle Knox (Hopi- Pima) is a 26-year-old farmer determined to rid his Nation of diabetes, obesity and other health crises.
Samantha Hononi (Hopi-Tewa) is a program director at Natwani Coalition, which was founded “to strengthen the ties of traditional farming between youth and elders”.
Just as designers are coming up with new ideas worldwide, I’d like to applaud creative and inspiring Native Americans everywhere who are developing great ideas and applying them in 2014 and beyond.
1-pound bag of large corn chips
1 cup dry-roasted crickets
½ pound shredded sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup fine chopped jalapenos
¼ cup sliced black olives
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons fine chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon olive oil
Put dry roasted crickets in a small bowl and toss with oil, chili powder and a pinch of salt. Place a layer of chips on a microwaveable plate. Then add a ¼ cup crickets, a little cheddar, a little jalapeno, olives, cilantro in layers until there is a pile on the plate. Microwave for 45 seconds to melt cheese.
Dale Carson (Abenaki) is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking, and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for over 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with them and her husband in Madison, Connecticut.