The secret to Native American cuisine

Written by Staff Writer

Special to CNN

Native American food plays a central role in the culture of the Mescalero Apache, or Mescalero Apache and Peñuelas Indians of the Texas Panhandle. But even though they have lived on this land for more than 6,000 years, many in their tribe are still unaware of the distinct features of their traditional dishes.

“They haven’t always been aware of the tribal dishes,” said Carol Reinmiller, executive chef of the Dallas-based Mescalero Apache Museum and the owner of Native Indian Cuisine (NIC), a boutique Dallas restaurant and cookbook publisher.

“What I hope I’m able to do is teach them, what’s special about my native recipes and cuisine.”

That, Reinmiller said, can be something as simple as teaching guests about more precise cooking techniques to as difficult as educating youth about traditional recipes.

“Maybe we could get them to think about producing their own food, growing their own food,” Reinmiller said. “Because one day they may be able to [contribute food to NIC’s cooking classes]. Maybe someday they could put their hands in their own or their grandmother’s recipe book.”

In fact, Reinmiller hopes that she can be a catalyst to get more native chefs and restaurant owners open eateries in the Southwest — her first step in that direction — and also work to improve the livelihood of those currently working in the industry.

“I’m looking at opening that out further and I think that’s an awesome way to do that,” Reinmiller said. “Just maybe my first restaurant, I’m looking for that chef that’s established in the industry.”

Then again, that’s not even Reinmiller’s goal right now.

“[My plan] was not to cook,” she said. “I wanted to open a non-food museum, with more elements of art, more of a place where people would visit to learn more about their culture.”

But, “since the start of my museum and my cookbook, I’ve met a lot of native chefs and a lot of chefs who want to work in this field,” Reinmiller said. “It’s definitely the place where the talent is.”

(For Reinmiller’s part, what also makes a kitchen so appealing — aside from the cookbook series and various educational programs that NIC runs — is the quiet space and “beautiful views” she finds in most kitchens, she said.)

From 7 to 9 p.m. ET, “Native American Cuisine” will air on CNN International on Tuesdays. The book is currently available to buy on Amazon.

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