Sean Sherman, founder and CEO of the Sioux Chef, is one of five recipients of the James Beard Foundation’s 2019 Leadership Awards.

“My phone has been blowing up all day,” said Sherman. “They gave us a little bit of a heads up, and we couldn’t tell anybody about it for a couple of weeks, so it’s exciting that the news is finally out.”

The awards highlight individuals working in the “important and complex realms of sustainability, food justice and public health,” according to a statement from the New York City-based culinary foundation. Sherman is the first Minnesotan to be a Leadership Award recipient since the program began nine years ago.

“Sean Sherman, Oglala Lakota, focuses on the revitalization and awareness of indigenous foods systems in a modern culinary context, a mission which led him to create the company the Sioux Chef in 2014,” announced the foundation in a statement. ”Sherman has studied extensively to determine the foundations of these food systems which include the knowledge of Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship, food preservation, regional diversity, Native American migrational histories, along with indigenous culture and history in general to gain a full understanding of bringing back a sense of Native American cuisine to today’s world. In 2018, Sean co-founded the nonprofit NATIFS (North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems), which this year is in the process of opening a not-for-profit indigenous restaurant and training center called Indigenous Food Lab.  His vision is to open Indigenous Food Labs in cities across North America with the focus of helping regional indigenous communities to develop healthy community-based indigenous food businesses, to help bring much-needed economic opportunities, influence healthy culturally appropriate diets and re-identifying true cuisines of the Americas.”

Sherman is opening a native foods restaurant near St. Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis in 2020. (That's Sherman, pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo).

Sherman is no stranger to the James Beard Awards, which Time magazine called "the Oscars of the food world." In 2018, his book, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen” — published by the University of Minnesota Press with co-author Beth Dooley — won the Beard for best book in the American category.

“We’re so honored to be on the list with so many amazing past winners, people like Michelle Obama and Dan Barber,” said Sherman. “We’re working really hard to do something different, and this gives us a bigger platform to educate people to the work that we’re trying to accomplish.”

Other recipients include:

• The Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center in Northhampton, Mass., which “builds the collective power of workers and immigrants in western Massachussetts and beyond.”

• Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund in East Point, Ga., “a non-profit cooperative association striving toward the development of self-supporting communities through cooperative economic development, land retention and advocacy in order to increase income and enhance other economic opportunities for low-income African American and other limited resource communities across the South.”

• Leah Penniman, co-executive director and program manager of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, N.Y., which has a mission to “end racism in the food system and reclaim our ancestral connection to land.”

• Anim Steel, co-founder and executive director of Real Food Generation in Cambridge, Mass., “an organization harnessing the power of youth and universities to create a food system that truly nourishes us all: one that is defined by food sovereignty, and not the “Big Food” agenda in the United States.”

The awards will be presented at the foundation’s annual Leadership Awards dinner on May 5 in Chicago.