Chef Sean Sherman has worked tirelessly to reclaim Indigenous cuisine.
Every now and then, restaurants fulfill a role that goes beyond food. They may transport you to a time and place where nostalgia and exoticism draw crowds and romance the media.
Owamni, which opened in July in the historic Water Works building, does draw crowds. Reservations are harder to score than a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. And it certainly has been a media darling, if you count accolades from the New York Times, Esquire and Food & Wine, among others.
But to acquaint Owamni by those labels would be a disservice to a centuries-old cuisine that its chef/owner, Sean Sherman, has worked tirelessly to reclaim. He riffs on cuisines from different North American tribal communities and enforces decolonization. Tacos are made from native, nixtamalized heirloom corn; fish are from local lakes; grains and beans are native to Minnesota. Because dairy, wheat flour and cane sugar aren't from local lands, they are omitted from the menu. So, too, are beef, pork and chicken.
Their absences don't limit Sherman from creating dishes that deliver pure, elemental delight. His Wojape sauces, made from mildly sweet chokecherries, are terrific accompaniments to dishes such as smoked trout and seared arctic char. His clever use of corn and grains has led to the creation of several very memorable wraps and crackers. And his knowledge of game has produced a master class on how to coax flavor and texture from less common meats, like antelope and elk.
What Sherman has created underscores the kind of culture that he enriches. And what a pleasure for us all to revel in it.
To see more of our look back at Minnesota's food scene in 2021, including standout chefs, spirits, neighborhood spots and more, use the drop-down navigation bar at the top of this page.