We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Fulcrum’s featured author, Richard Hetzler, Executive Chef of the Mitsitam Cafe and author of The Mitsitam Café Cookbook (Fulcrum Publishing, 9781555917470), recipes from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Richard discussed with us how he came up with the dishes for the Mitsitam Café, the seasonality of using indigenous ingredients and what his favorites recipes are in the cookbook.
The Mitsitam Café, a Zagat-rated restaurant, has been delighting the palates of museum guests ever since opening its doors in 2004. Now food enthusiasts and home cooks alike can make these accessible recipes centered around locally-grown, seasonal ingredients from their very own kitchens. Replete with beautiful photographs of the finished dishes, the cookbook showcases the Americas’ truly indigenous foods in ninety easy-to-follow, home-tested recipes. Pick up a copy of The Mitsitam Café Cookbook today and try a Cranberry Crisp with Cornmeal Topping for the holidays, the colorful Peruvian Potato Causa, or the fresh Juniper-Cured Salmon Sandwich.
You were on the team that researched and developed the groundbreaking concept for The Mitsitam Café: serving indigenous foods that are staples of five Native culture areas in North and South America. What sort of research on Native American cuisine did it take to develop the menu for The Misitam Café and to compose the recipes for The Mitsitam Café Cookbook?
We did a lot of research on the life ways of the different tribes represented in the café. We utilized both the internet as well as history books and speaking and learning from the indigenous peoples of the regions. We also held five focus group tastings on the five regions represented in the café, and invited Native Americans from those regions to taste the food and give us feedback on how true to the mission we were.
We also looked at how we could source native products from Native Americans. We started relationships with a couple of key Native American businesses that we still use today. The first is Quinault Pride Seafood in Washington State — we currently source all of our wild salmon and other seafood products from them. The other is the Intertribal Bison Cooperative. We source all of our buffalo from them and currently purchase 250,000 pounds a year.
For the recipe development in the café, we wanted to use native ingredients that were indigenous to the regions we are representing in the café and put them together in a way that appealed to the everyday consumer. We quickly realized that with the seasons, we could change the menu and represent a larger amount of native foods.
How does The Mitsitam Café Cookbook differ from other Native American cookbooks?
I think the book differs in that it gives you a more contemporary look at native food and how the ingredients can be used today.
The seasonal menu at The Mitsitam Café changes on each equinox and solstice — can you explain the process or reasoning behind that, and is that concept carried out in The Mitsitam Café Cookbook?
We felt it made the most sense and gave us the opportunity to feature other native ingredients that are not available year round. Native Americans were experts at living off the land and what they had. They would not have eaten the same foods all year-long such as fiddlehead ferns that are only available in the spring every year.
Yes, the concept is carried out in the cookbook as well. The book features 92 recipes from about 3 of the 4 seasons in the café, from everything like fiddlehead ferns to rich and hearty soups and stews for the winter months.
Do you have a favorite recipe from The Mitsitam Café Cookbook, or one that you recommend readers try right away?
My favorite recipes are the moles — they seem very complex but truly are very simple, have so much flavor, and give you wonderful talking points when entertaining friends and family. You can discuss how chocolate is used in savory cooking and how it adds a wonderful complexity to the dish.
For more information on Richard Hetzler and The Mitsitam Café Cookbook, please visit www.fulcrum-books.com