Monday, October 2, 2023

Native chefs cook to impress at AZ Native Edible Experience

By Geri Hongeva
Special to the Times


It was a treat to attend the Arizona Native Edible Experience Nov. 19.

Special to the Times | Geri Hongeva
Chef Josefa Aguayo, Tohono O’odham, of Desert Diamond Casino, serves mini mesquite tostadas during the AZ Native Edible Experience at Western Spirit Scottsdale’s Museum of the West Nov. 19.

The event began in February 2019, and the Arizona American Indian Tourism Association coordinated it with Scottsdale Western Week to highlight Native cuisine and chefs.

This year, the ANEE took place at Western Spirit Scottsdale’s Museum of the West for the first time in November to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. The ANEE has grown in popularity since its inception during the Arizona Indian Festival.

The event was at the Saguaro Hotel near the Scottsdale Civic Plaza. Now, it is well attended and growing every year.

In 1986, President Ronald Regan proclaimed the week of Nov. 23-30, 1986, American Indian Week. Then on Aug. 3, 1990, President George W. Bush announced the month of November as National American Indian Heritage Month, now known as Native American Heritage Month. Today, November has many tribal communities sharing their culture, language, dances, food, and art, primarily through social media, using hashtags #nativeamericanheritagemonth.

Meet the chefs

A total of nine chefs attended ANEE. They prepared foods like mini mesquite tostadas, pumpkin tamale, quail with saguaro sauce, cholla bud pesto, lamb with mint tepary beans, foraging dem with acorn, and prickly pear petit four.

The chefs represented their tribes and establishments. The chefs are Denalla Berlin, Diné /Tohono Oʼodham, of Desert Diamond West; La Nella Harvey, Tohono Oʼodham, of Desert Diamond; Josefa Aguayo, Tohono Oʼodham, of Desert Diamond; Renetto-Mario Etsitty, Diné, of The Rez an Urban Eatery; Douglas Pablo, Ak-Chin, of Harrah’s Ak-Chin; Andrew Humeyumptewa, Ak-Chin, of Harrah’s Ak-Chin; Twila Cassadore, San Carlos Apache; Alyssa Dixon, Gila River; and Nikolis Joe, Diné, of Tucson Indian Center.

Months-long prep

It took the ANEE committee – including nine AAITA board members and 15 volunteers – to plan the event.

The chefs are selected through an application process, and they must be tribal members and have vast experience in the culinary industry.

“We have developed strong ties in Native communities over the years, and each year before seeking chefs, we plan and curate a program that is diverse and representational of northern, southern, and central Arizona Native communities,” explained Jeffrey Lazos Ferns, the event coordinator.

“Arizona Native Edible Experience was an awesome display of Native foods shared and presented to those who attended the event,” AAITA president Rory Majenty said. “Native people have always farmed and cooked for centuries, sharing their knowledge with all walks of life.”

Arizona is the home of 22 Native American tribes, and each has been a steward of the land long before settlers arrived. Today, many tribal members still rely on their cornfields and ranching to sustain their livelihood for their families.

Heritage month

November marks Native American Heritage month across the United States. Still, in the eyes of tribal members, it is every day to be stewards of Mother Earth and share food and cultural stories.

Many tribal members would trade food, crafts, animals, and textiles with other tribal members across the Colorado Plateau. During the fall season, it is harvest time, and getting prepared for the winter months by storing food and gathering warm materials to keep warm. The ceremonies change with the seasons. Storytelling now begins in some communities, while some may get quieter because winter is coming.

The atmosphere of the Arizona Native Edible Experience was celebratory, organic, and rejuvenating. Eating a variety of foods made by nine different chefs using their local ingredients and Native plants was fulfilling. It reassured visitors that the heritage of tribal members of the southwest is strong and present.

Special guests attending included Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega, Miss Indian Arizona 2022-2023 Sistine Lewis, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, her Second Attendant Emile Elch, Diné, artist Piersten Doctor, Diné, fashion-designer Joanne Myles, San Carlos Apache, and Majenty, who is Hualapai.

In February 2023, the Arizona Indian Festival will continue along with Scottsdale Western Week. The AZ Native Edible Experience will be in November 2023 because both events are growing as standalone events.

“The partnership provides AAITA the opportunity to leverage marketing and the Scottsdale visitor brand as well as the financial support it has provided AAITA the opportunity to grow both Arizona Indian Festival and AZ Native Edible Experience,” said Steve Geiogamah, the development manager for Scottsdale.


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