Storytelling school

Cherokee Chef creates community with food and stories

TULSA, Okla.—Tulsa-based chef Nico Albert Williams is a self-taught chef who has had a passion for sharing traditional Native foods for as long as she can remember. She is ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, whose journey has led her to the Indigenous food revitalization and food sovereignty movement.

“My interest and passion for Native cuisine has always been in my personal life and in my community,” Williams told Native News Online at Billy Ray’s Catfish & BBQ restaurant in Tulsa. “People knew I was a chief in the community and knew I was Cherokee and people were asking for traditional dinners or side dishes.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the food and entertainment industry, Williams was fired from her position as executive chef of Duet Restaurant & Jazz Club in the Tulsa Arts District. Like many others who have struggled due to the pandemic, she wasn’t sure what her next steps would be.

She decided to go all-in, she says, on her passion, and founded Burning Cedar Indigenous Foods, an LLC restaurant and consulting company. “There has been an increased interest in learning more about traditional foods, health and wellness, and reconnecting to the healthy foods our ancestors ate,” Williams said.

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She hosts many events including conferences, weddings, gatherings and some of her dishes include Cherokee Bean Bread, Skillet Green Chilli Cornbread, Pawnee Blue Corn Porridge, Rice Wraps wild and mushroom lettuce, bison meatballs, etc.

“My side job, indigenous foods and teaching about them, has always been my passion,” Williams said.

So, Williams decided to found Sovereign Kitchen, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the goal of opening an urban Indigenous community space for the Tulsa community. “This knowledge of the foods our ancestors ate is our cultural birthright, and I wouldn’t feel entitled to share it,” she said.

“People shouldn’t have to pay to access their ancestral knowledge,” Williams said. The Sovereign Kitchen aims to address socioeconomic disparities, health crises and cultural disconnect affecting Indigenous communities by restoring ancestral dietary habits, childbirth practices and traditional medicine, she said.

“We don’t have an indigenous cultural center [in Tulsa],” she said. “We are going to invest in a holistic property, where we learn to support each other as a community.”

When a space is chosen, Sovereign Kitchen will serve as a hub for the community, providing resources to connect with traditional ways of life, including natural childbirth clinics, postpartum care, family planning and growth. a community garden and learning to cook with indigenous foods from many regions. of Indian country.

In mid-April, Williams was filmed in an episode of an upcoming cooking show for Hulu. The show will feature regional and traditional foods from across the country. In her appearance, she shared a wild onion dinner, which is a popular dish among southeastern tribes, with footage of her friend’s Osage land searching for ingredients.

Her career and dedication to traditional cooking has impressed not only the local Tulsa community, but also television producers of popular cooking shows around the world. His work has been featured by Cherokee Nation’s OsiyoTV, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Atlas Obscura, PBS, Gilcrease Museum, Philbrook Museum, BBC’s Hairy Bikers and The Food Network.

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About the Author

Author: Darren ThompsonE-mail: This email address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a freelance journalist based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where he also contributes to Unicorn Riot, an alternative media publication. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty and Indigenous issues for the Indigenous Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in the international conversation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminology and legal studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.