Diné chef Freddie Bitsoie spoke about his heritage and how he preserves it through Native American cuisine Wednesday at the Indiana Memorial Union.
Bitsoie is the executive chef for the Mitsitam Cafe at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. A room of about 50 people listened as he spoke about being an executive chef and how he became involved in the culinary arts.
“It's very enlightening to be reminded about the work that I’ve done,” Bitsoie said. “When we start practicing what we are taught, for myself that isn’t work.”
Bitsoie owns FJBits Concepts, a firm specializing in Native American eating habits and culinary practices. He travels around the country speaking about his experiences as a Native American chef and has been featured in "America: The Cookbook," the New York Times and NPR.
He studied anthropology and art history at the University of New Mexico before going to culinary school in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“My idea wasn’t to be a chef,” Bitsoie said.
He said the first person who told him to be a chef was an archeology professor he had while in college in New Mexico. He often wrote about foodways and food transportation in the class he had with this professor.
Bitsoie's archeology professor told him he should study food because his papers on foodways and food transportation resonated with him.
Bitsoie said food helps give people something to identify with. He said when it comes to mutton, the Navajo tribe prepares it differently than other tribes. The little differences in how things are produced factor into identities.
“Back in the 1980s there was a big movement where people wanted to be self-identified,” Bitsoie said. “Now, people have realized you can only identify yourself if you can identify with other people.”
Olga Kalentzidou, a visiting assistant professor in the geography department, helped coordinate Bitsoie coming to campus. Kalentzidou teaches a course called Indiana Foodways, which Bitsoie was asked to give a cooking demonstration for.
Kalentzidou said her class takes geographical and historical perspectives on the different food traditions of Indiana as a whole.She said she was interested in how Native communities around the world understand their foodways and traditions, how they change them, how they modify them and how they preserve them.
“It’s really interesting to understand what the Native population of the Americas actually brought to the table in things that we use today,” Kalentzidou said. “It’s always nice to hear from someone who is practicing the craft of cooking and also thinking very deliberately about his own heritage."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the subject of visiting assistant professor Olga Kalentzidou’s class. The IDS regrets this error.