Mobile Ad Container

All three Indigenous semifinalists in this year’s prestigious James Beard Awards, a program to recognize innovative chefs and restaurants across the country, have advanced to the round of finalists. 

In presenting several awards today at a ceremony in Paradise Valley, Ariz., the James Beard Foundation announced the finalists in the 2022 restaurant and chef awards. Included in the list were: 

  • Emerging Chef: Crystal Wahpepah, founder of Oakland, Calif.-based Wahpepah's Kitchen
  • Best New Restaurant: Owamni, founded in 2021 in Minneapolis, Minn.
  • Best Chef – Midwest: Sean Sherman, who is known as The Sioux Chef and co-founded Owamni with his partner, Dana Thompson

Wahpepah, an enrolled citizen of the Kickapoo Nation of Oklahoma, made the cut of six chefs being considered for the Emerging Chef award, which recognizes a chef “who displays exceptional talent, character, and leadership ability, and who is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.”

[RELATED: ‘THIS IS OUR TIME’: Indigenous chefs recognized as semifinalists in prestigious James Beard Award]

After working as a caterer and gaining a following as the first Native American chef to compete on the TV cooking show “Chopped,” Wahpepah opened Wahpepah’s Kitchen in an urban area of Oakland last November. At the restaurant, Wahpepah focuses on reclaiming Native foods and educating people about their health benefits.

“I felt very surprised and excited to see it this morning,” Wahpepah said in a text to Tribal Business News when asked about the finalist announcement. She added that she was “very much honored to be with Sean in this journey.”

Meanwhile, Sherman (Oglala Lakota) and Thompson (Mdewakanton Dakota, Wahpeton Sisseton) opened Owamni in July 2021 with a specific focus on decolonizing foods and sourcing from Indigenous producers and other BIPOC and local sources. The partners also operate the Native American Traditional Indigenous Food System (NATIFS) nonprofit in Minneapolis. 

Sherman is one of six finalists in the Best Chef award in the Midwest region, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. 

Never miss the biggest stories and breaking news about the tribal economy. Sign up to get our reporting sent straight to your inbox every Monday morning.

Meanwhile, Owamni is one eleven restaurants vying for the Best New Restaurant award.

Sherman previously received the James Beard Leadership Award in 2019, and his book, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen,” won a James Beard book award in 2018.  

When reached by text, Sherman said he was “just so excited for our team at Owamni to be recognized for all of our hard work trying to do something completely different, and also happy to see Crystal Wahpepah is also a finalist!”

The greater number of BIPOC chefs in the awards is the result of a concerted effort by the James Beard Foundation to “ensure equity and inclusion,” said Tanya Holland, chair of the James Beard Awards Committee, who called this year’s finalists “the most diverse list I’ve seen in Awards history.”

“The Awards are a great reminder that we are among innovators, entrepreneurs, and trailblazers who represent a wide range of regions, cultures, and cooking philosophies,” Holland said in a statement. “And this year, in particular, is a great reminder of how incredibly diverse our industry is.”

The James Beard Foundation will announce the restaurant and chef awards in a ceremony scheduled for Monday, June 13 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Owners Sean and Dana B WOwamni founders Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson. (Courtesy photo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include comment from Crystal Wahpepah.

Want more news about the $130 billion tribal economy? 

Tribal Business News publishes thoroughly reported and well-crafted stories about Native businesses and entrepreneurs, growth and expansion strategies, best practices, economic data, government policy and other relevant business news. Tribal Business News is required reading for tribal council members and leaders of Native businesses, as well as state and federal legislators, policymakers, economic developers, entrepreneurs, bankers, lawyers and anyone interested in doing business in Indian Country.

Sign up for our free newsletter to track Native business and the tribal economy.  Or sign up for a premium digital subscription ($99/year or $10/month— cancel anytime) to gain full 24/7/365 access to our business news reporting. Megwetch.