Native American chef wins top honor at James Beard Awards, restaurants’ biggest night

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(MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.) — A renowned American Indigenous restaurant took home one of the top honors at the prestigious James Beard Awards this week.

The Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Owamni was named best new restaurant of 2022 at the awards ceremony, which was held in Chicago on Monday night.

The event is sometimes referred to as the Oscars of the food world.

“Our ancestors are proud tonight because we’re doing something different. We’re putting health on the table, we’re putting culture on the table, and we’re putting our stories on the table,” chef and restaurant owner Sean Sherman said during his acceptance speech. “And we hope that one day we can find Native American restaurants in every single city.”

The chef, who previously won a James Beard award for best American cookbook with “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen,” first opened the Minnesota hotspot in summer 2021 with co-owner Dana Thompson, to mass acclaim.

“People of color everywhere have been affected by colonialism,” Sherman said Monday, adding that they had endured “centuries” of racism. “This is showing that we can get through that, that we’re still here. Our people are here.”

Owamni’s menu celebrates “the true flavors of North America” using decolonized ingredients such as bison and wild rice purchased from Indigenous food producers locally and nationally.

“We have removed colonial ingredients such as wheat flour, cane sugar and dairy. We are proud to present a decolonized dining experience,” the restaurant states on its website.

The awards ceremony, which recognizes talent around the culinary and food media industries, resumed in person this year following a two year hiatus amid the pandemic, during which the organization said it “underwent a full audit of its policies and procedures” to address and remove bias.

Clare Reichenbach, CEO of the James Beard Foundation, which runs the event, said this year was “a momentous turning point” after “major changes were made to better align the Awards with the Foundation’s mission and values to ensure we are a force for good in our country’s food culture, and more representative of the communities we serve.”

“In the spirit of Gather for Good, this weekend was a true celebration of our industry, as we recognize outstanding leaders making our country’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for all,” she added, referencing the theme of the night.

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