SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The prestigious James Beard Awards recognize the excellence and talent of culinary arts across the country and now a South Dakota chef is being honored as the best of the best.
Sean Sherman grew up in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. After graduating college in Spearfish, Sherman moved to Minneapolis in the late 1990s and began working in restaurants. Within a few years, he had moved up to the position of chef.
“And then a few years into that chef career I just, kind of, had that epiphany of what I’m doing today which is a focus on my heritage, which is Native American foods and just Indigenous foods in general,” Sean Sherman told KELOLAND News on his way back from the awards in Chicago.
In 2014, Sherman began The Sioux Chef, a catering business in the Twin Cities and then opened Owamni just last year. The restaurant embodies Sherman’s vision of cultivating locally, Indigenous-produced ingredients in modern Native American dishes.
“We took away colonial ingredients and things that didn’t exist here before to showcase that there was lots of food and flavor to play with from this continent,” Sherman said.
Because of that, you won’t find things like dairy, wheat flour, cane sugar, beef, pork or chicken at Owamni. Instead, Sherman said that they utilize beans, corn, wild rice, herbs, and wild game in a lot of their dishes.
The unique concept has not only won over patrons of the restaurant but has now won Sherman and co-owner Dana Thompson the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant.
The restaurant was nominated in two categories: Best New Restaurant and Best Chef in the Midwest region. After losing in the chef category, Sherman didn’t expect Owamni to win in the other category.
“I thought there would be no way,” Sherman said. “It was a pretty competitive one so I thought, there’s gotta be someone else that’ll take that one.”
Sherman described the moment they won as “surreal.”
“It was really surprising, it was a lot of emotion, it was really great,” Sherman said.
With this win, Sherman hopes to see new Indigenous and Native restaurants pop up in his home state of South Dakota.
“We’re just helping to open up a path to bring Native and Indigenous foods to the forefront,” Sherman said. “This restaurant is the only one of its kind out there and one of very few Native restaurants across the entire country, and it’s just helping to showcase the demand and interest out there.”
If you’re hoping to check out Owamni the next time you’re in Minneapolis, you might want to start thinking about making a reservation now. Sherman said that the restaurant has sold out every night since opening last year and their reservations have been booked solid. Following the James Beard award, Sherman expects it is only going to get busier.
“We’ve had up to thousands of people on the waitlists on the weekends and that’s probably gonna have to be the way that it is for a while,” Sherman said.