Culinary Arts and Indigenous Foods

By Chef Elizabeth Mikesell

On June 7, 2015, my Pima Community College culinary education students and I were invited to be guest chefs at the Desert Rain Café, in Sells, AZ. This fun and exciting project used native desert foods in every course developed with my students, one of whom is Tohono O’odham.

Local author Janet Taylor helped us prepare and serve the Masala Dosa. Our menu’s first course was blue corn sopes and a multi-layered tepary bean salad including avocado, corn, hearts of palm, microgreens, fresh cilantro with chipotle lime salad dressing. Next, we made H’aal squash soup with jalapeño chimichurri, a South American sauce now featured in new Southwestern cuisine. The third course was marinated mesquite smoked chicken on a bed of nopales in red chile sauce, cilantro rice and mesquite flour bruschetta with cholla bud salsa. We offered prickly pear meringue pie sweetened with agave nectar and saguaro syrup for dessert.

Having instructed in Pima Community College’s Culinary Arts program for over 10 years, I’m familiar with all the standard practices—what students need to know to survive in the restaurant industry, to open a bakery, or just to ensure they (not to mention their friends and their family!) will eat good food for the rest of their lives. But over that time, I have also come to see how necessary it is for my students to understand their local food system. For that reason, experiences like the one we had at the Desert Rain Café—where, through food, my students can connect with the history and heritage of this area—are my favorite part of being a chef.

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