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Celebrity chef Nephi Craig, who made a guest appearance at ASU last weekend, doesn’t run a swanky New York restaurant or yell insults on a reality TV show. Craig, who is of Apache and Navajo heritage, doesn’t generally serve fry bread, and he believes that food has a role in healing. You could say that he believes in a kinder, more indigenous approach to food.
Craig, founder of the Native American Culinary Association, headlined the first RED INK Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Sustainability Dinner held on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe this past Saturday, April 22, in Old Main’s Carson Ballroom. In addition to Craig's great food, dinner guests also enjoyed the classical stylings of guitarist Gabriel Ayala, a fashion show of indigenous-inspired designs by ASU art major Tyson Powless, and the poetry and stories of ASU Regents’ Professor of English and American Indian Studies Simon Ortiz.
Craig prepared hors d’oeuvres and dinner from a carving board and action station. The menu, which focused on indigenous, sustainable foods, included: slow-roasted bison; chili- and honey-roasted wild turkey; smoked salmon; Ayacucho quinoa salad; roasted young vegetables; Apache cornbread; zucchini fritters; Western Apache Nada’ban and braised beef tongue; spring three sisters mix of Tohono O’odham tepary beans, Anasazi beans, yellow squash tomatoes, and yucca blossoms; and an assortment of roasted seeds and nuts. Beverages included Apache Pinon Cloud coffee, White Mountain Apache wild tea and sweet corn tea.
While he worked, Craig shared his knowledge of the rich history of indigenous foods and cooking, explaining that food is inseparable from — and at the heart of — a people’s history, culture, tradition, identity, family and home. Craig has infused his holistic beliefs about food into plans for his new restaurant, Café Gozhóó Western Apache Café and Learning Center, set to open in Whiteriver, White Mountain Apache Nation, later this spring.
Ayala, an internationally renowned artist who is Pascua Yaqui from Tucson, played varied selections from classical, flamenco and jazz traditions as well as from his own compositions. With each piece, he related personal anecdotes, such as the time he played music with Carlos Santana and another time with the Temptations.
The dinner was attended by people all ages, and by representatives from many different indigenous nations, local and distant. Attendees included Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez and his family and members of local indigenous nations, such as the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, Pasqua Yaqui Nation, Gila River Indian Community and White Mountain Apache Nation. ASU guests in addition to Ortiz included tribal liaison Jacob Moore and his wife, as well as friends and family of RED INK staff members.
The RED INK Indigenous Initiative for All is a collaborative endeavor conceived and equally implemented among all stake-holders/partners with an interrelated set of campus, regional, national and international ventures, including an international journal (RED INK: International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, & Humanities) and other projects to achieve goals set in collaboration with indigenous communities. It is housed in the Department of English, an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
For more information, visit the RED INK website at english.clas.asu.edu/red-ink.