An Indigenous Alaskan Chef Shares Traditional Recipes

Civil Eats

An Indigenous Alaskan Chef Shares Traditional Recipes By Way Of YouTube

Chef Rob Kinneen’s web series ‘Fresh Alaska’ promotes fresh, local ingredients from even the remotest parts of his home state.

By Jody Ellis, Indigenous Foodways, Local Eats  – 
Rob Kinneen with Athabascan Elder Howard Luke, learning about preparing salmon and foraging wild ingredients as p[art of Kinneen’s web series.
Rob Kinneen didn’t take his first bite of fresh asparagus until adulthood, when he was a student at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York. “That was one of the first times I realized vegetables could taste good,” he says. “The flavor was so different than the canned goods I’d grown up with.”

Raised mainly in Anchorage Alaska, where produce can be hard to find and often very expensive, Kinneen wasn’t exposed to much in the way of fresh fruits or vegetables. His connection to food, however, was always there.

“There was still an affinity with the land and with food,” he says. “We harvested a lot of seafood, we hunted, we went clam-digging.” He remembers his mom baking fresh bread and picking fresh rhubarb and eating it raw, dipped in sugar. And when his dad grew potatoes for the first time, Kinneen helped him harvest them. “We boiled them and ate some that same day, and I remember how earthy they tasted,” he recalls.

These memories, coupled with a desire to connect with his Tlingit heritage, led to an interest in cooking with locally sourced, indigenous Alaskan foods.

After attending CIA, and working in restaurants in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and North Carolina, Kinneen made his way back to Anchorage, where he lived and worked for 15 years. To be closer to extended family, he and his family recently relocated to North Carolina, where he serves as executive chef for both Happy Cardinal Catering and the Italian restaurant The Boot. And he travels back to Alaska regularly and still considers it “home.”

“Getting married and having children helped me realize I needed to know more about my own Alaskan heritage,” says Kinneen.

The result is “Fresh Alaska” and “Traditional Foods, Contemporary Chef,” two web series that show him traveling around Alaska, harvesting and cooking traditional native foods. On screen, Kinneen can be seen doing things like collecting sea cucumber in Sitka, eating salmon berry flowers, catching shrimp in Prince William Sound, cooking with reindeer sausage, and picking berries to make Akutaq (the traditional Alaska Native version of ice cream). He partnered with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) to produce both series.

Rob Kinneen cooking with one of the health educators at the Southcentral Foundation as part of his "Fresh Alaska" web series.Rob Kinneen cooking with one of the health educators at the Southcentral Foundation as part of his “Fresh Alaska” web series.

Kinneen’s series give his audience the chance to see how local foods can be prepared at minimal cost. “Making these videos helped show what food means in different regions of the community,” he says. “It also inspired me to consider how people are finding answers to food sustainability.”

As part of his work, he visited places like Tyonek, Alaska, southwest of Anchorage; the town’s conservation district recently spent a million dollars to build a culvert over a salmon stream to help the fish migrate. Kinneen saw firsthand how the Tyonek Tribal Conservation District has worked to take back health and wellness in the community through sustainability, with programs such as the “seed start” program at the local school.

“They have a greenhouse and an irrigation system that is set up with a solar generator,” he says. “Solar panels have a life of 30 years, which makes them much more viable than using a regular generator and diesel fuel.”

The solar-powered generator to irrigate Tyonek's community garden. (Photo courtesy of Rob Kinneen)The solar-powered generator to irrigate Tyonek’s community garden. (Photo courtesy of Rob Kinneen)

He also visited Meyers Farm in Bethel, where owner Tim Meyer has created a successful organic farming community in far western Alaska, producing hundreds of pounds of produce each season.

“Ninety-six percent of the food in Alaska is imported, which leads to questions about food security,” says Kinneen. “Tim Meyer is growing produce on the tundra. He uses cold-climate farming techniques and grows on a nutrient-rich riverbed. The produce is preserved in an underground cellar with a drip oil pan stove that keeps temperatures at about 34 degrees. If you can successfully grow vegetables in a place like Bethel, I think you can do it almost anywhere.”

Grocery stores in the more remote areas are especially poorly stocked. “It’s not unusual to see a $19.00 fermented [i.e., old] pineapple or a $9.00 head of brown iceberg lettuce for,” says Kinneen. For this reason, making fresh and natural food accessible to all people has also become a passion project for Kinneen, and he has partnered with groups like the Food Bank of Alaska to highlight how Alaskans can use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars (or “food stamps”) at farmers’ markets.

With one in seven people in the state considered food-insecure, and access to SNAP threatened in negotiations over the current farm bill, helping people eat nutritious, local food whenever possible is more important than ever. And Alaska’s remote geography often means that its communities face additional obstacles in accessing resources, and thus they must rely on wild foods to fill the gaps.

Roasted salmon served on a bed of Tyonek-grown vegetables; only the salt, pepper, and oil came from outside of Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Rob Kinneen)Roasted salmon served on a bed of Tyonek-grown vegetables; only the salt, pepper, and oil came from outside of Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Rob Kinneen)

Kinneen’s work has culminated in his new cookbook, Fresh Alaska. The recipes, such as arctic polenta with razor clams, combine contemporary, upscale cooking with traditional Alaskan food. It’s a big step for Alaska cookbooks, despite the fact that chefs in high-end restaurants around the state have been  incorporating indigenous ingredients such as foraged mushrooms, spruce tips, and locally caught seafood in recent years.

“My main beef with Alaskan cookbooks is that they are either very esoteric or they don’t contain Alaskan ingredients,” he says. “I wanted to promote the people and places I came from, with insight into the subsistence side, [while] also being responsible as a chef.”

While Kinneen and his family enjoy their life in North Carolina, his Alaskan roots are never far from his mind. “The experiences I had at places like Meyers Farm and Tyonek were a huge inspiration for my cookbook,” he says. “To see the efforts of a small village to take back food sustainability and prosper is truly humbling. Food is the connection between all of us.”

Minimum Wage Has Become a Starvation Wage.

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It’s time for a raise.

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Ralph Cramden knows one when he see’s one!

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Cuomo: Trump’s record on veterans is disgraceful

Cuomo Prime Time

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Chris Cuomo: Why the GI mess? Why the VA mess? Why no real help for suicide and mental health treatment?

Why are Trump’s mystery friends from Mar-a-Lago report

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Cuomo: Trump's record on veterans is disgraceful

Chris Cuomo: Why the GI mess? Why the VA mess? Why no real help for suicide and mental health treatment? Why are Trump's mystery friends from Mar-a-Lago reportedly calling shots at the VA with no oversight? We have not covered this enough and as I told you on Veterans' Day, we will do better. https://cnn.it/2z7rVXa

Posted by Cuomo Prime Time on Thursday, November 15, 2018

Democrats Can’t ‘Work With’ Republicans Until Republicans Return to Reality

Esquire

Democrats Can’t ‘Work With’ Republicans Until Republicans Return to Reality

Charles P. Pierce, Esquire         November 15, 2018

Marco Rubio’s Biblical Criticism Of Florida Election Recounts Goes Awry

HuffPost

Marco Rubio’s Biblical Criticism Of Florida Election Recounts Goes Awry

Lee Moran, HuffPost       November 14, 2018

At the shrine of first U.S. saint, who came to America as an immigrant

At the shrine of first U.S. saint, who came to America as an immigrant

By Neil Steinberg      November 11, 2018

The National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

The National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini is the former chapel of Columbus Hospital, which was closed in 2001. The shrine, which re-opened in 2012 has the upper right arm bone of Cabrini, the first American saint, displayed at the altar. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

The contrast would look trite in fiction.

Facing Lincoln Park, the luxurious Lincoln Park 2520, where condo prices soar toward $6 million a unit. The building, opened in 2012, has two pools, a movie theater and a private garden. Designed by Chicago architect Lucien LaGrange, the center 39-story tower is flanked by a pair of 21-story wings, given a distinct Parisian air with its metal mansard roof.

Nestled behind — the building actually wraps around it — and sharing the same address is the National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini. It’s the former chapel of Columbus Hospital, shuttered in 2001; when the 3-acre hospital site was sold to developers, the stipulation was the shrine would be preserved.

And it is, having re-opened in 2012. No pool, but the first American saint’s upper right arm bone displayed at the altar in a glass and bronze reliquary. The bedroom where she died in 1917. Her bed, where prayers for the sick are sometimes tucked under the pillow, and it is not unknown for a sick child to be laid upon the mattress in hope of a cure.

Born in Italy, Cabrini dreamt of working in China, but was sent to the United States instead, arriving in 1889. The contempt held for Italian-American immigrants at that time can hardly be overstated. They were seen as not white, lower than even the hated Irish, sometimes lynched — the largest mass lynching in the United States was of 11 Italian-Americans in New Orleans in 1891.

Cabrini, undeterred by all this, traveled the country, starting convents, schools, orphanages and hospitals. She was made a saint in 1946 — 100,000 people attended the celebratory mass at Soldier Field. In 1950 she became the patron saint of immigrants.

Which makes her particularly significant at the moment. I popped in last week, being in the neighborhood. Director Sister Bridget Zanin was sent for, and we spoke of Mother Cabrini.

Sister Bridget Zanin, of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Sister Bridget Zanin, of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is director of The National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini in Lincoln Park, celebrating a festival this week honoring the first American saint. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

“During this time we need her help and her intercession more than ever,” Zanin said. “She is a saint. She is in heaven with God, therefore she can intercede with us.”

Well then, I said, she should get right on that. Because immigrants are being demonized wrongly.

“Though they’re immigrants, they’re people like we are,” she agreed. “They’re looking for a way to better their lives and the lives of their families. They’re still our brothers and sisters who are suffering, a lot of them fleeing from suffering, fleeing from violence, fleeing from poverty. They want a better life in a better country. The United States is the first country in the world.”

Or was. Some argue the country is now full, using slurs once reserved for Italians like Mother Cabrini; Zanin pushed back against the calumny coming from Washington.

“We can’t accommodate everybody,” she said. “But we can accommodate some people. There are a lot of good people, who make a big sacrifice, walking so far away. We have to give people a chance; we like people to give us a chance, why can’t we give others a chance? Mother Cabrini herself was an immigrant.”

As was Zanin, who came to the United States in 1964 from Brazil.

“I wasn’t treated so badly,” she said. “There was a roof over my head. I had work. I didn’t know the language.”

But as she continued, her tone darkened.

“I felt I was treated as a second-class citizen,” she said. “I may have an accent, but I picked up English pretty fast.”

Religion is neutral, a tool, like a hammer. You can use it to build a house, or use it to bash strangers. Some use their faith to oppress; some use it to elevate.

“Fear and hatred shouldn’t have any place in our lives,” Zanin said. “These people are people like we are. If we turn away from our brothers and sisters we turn away from ourselves and the values of the United States. Because God said He lives in each one of us. And God will bless us if we are open to receive our brothers and sisters. If we turn away from our brothers and sisters, we turn away from God.”

A Cabrini Festival runs through Tuesday. Sunday is “An Evening of Prayer” with Denise La Giglia; Monday, researcher Ellen Skerrett speaks on “Cabrini & Her Chicago Connection;” Tuesday is Cabrini’s Feast Day, with a celebration led by Bishop Frank Kane. All events start at 6 p.m. at the shrine, 2520 N. Lakeview, behind the big beautiful condo building.

National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

A condo building towers over the National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini. It’s the former chapel of Columbus Hospital, which was closed in 2001. When the hospital site was sold to developers, the stipulation was that the shrine would be preserved. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

How Wolves Change Rivers

Sierra Club shared a video.
November 13, 2018

The majestic gray wolf can hold the key to the health of their natural ecosystems. Watch how the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park changed the iconic ecosystem for the better –> https://www.facebook.com/SustainableMan/videos/10154793032442909/

How Wolves Change Rivers

Help us: patreon.com/sustainablehuman

Posted by Sustainable Human on Sunday, April 30, 2017

Drone footage captures the scale of devastation in Paradise, California.

CNN

November 13, 2018

Drone footage captures the scale of devastation in Paradise, California, where large swaths of land and many homes have been reduced to ash by the deadliest wildfire in California history. https://cnn.it/2QL8zOA

Camp Fire becomes the deadliest in state history

Drone footage captures the scale of devastation in Paradise, California, where large swaths of land and many homes have been reduced to ash by the deadliest wildfire in California history. https://cnn.it/2QL8zOA

Posted by CNN on Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Most stock market dollars going to the wealthy and large corporations.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

November 10, 2018

Don’t be fooled by Trump when he talks about boosts to the stock market from his tax plan. That money is going to the wealthy and large corporations.

Stock Market Dollars Going to the Wealthy

Don't be fooled by Trump when he talks about boosts to the stock market from his tax plan. That money is going to the wealthy and large corporations.

Posted by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Saturday, November 10, 2018