Voyage to the 7,000 Islands of the Philippines

Jordan Wright
August 3, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts 


One of the most beautiful and evocative cookbooks to cross my path of late is the recent issue 7,000 Islands – A Food Portrait of the Philippines by Australian-Filipino food and travel writer Yasmin Newman.  A lavishly photographed and comprehensive collection of recipes from around the islands of Southeast Asia, it is especially relevant as we see more and more restaurants opening that feature Asian cuisine.  In it Newman takes us to exotic locales to offer up dishes that can be prepared in our own kitchens.  Of all the 323 pages of recipes I chose this one, which is a unique way of preparing our Maryland Blue Crabs.

Ginataang alimasag at buko Crab and young coconut ginataan

Ginataang alimasag at buko
Crab and young coconut ginataan

Crab and young coconut ginataan One of the most resounding memories I have of the Philippines is of regularly eating crab; the expensive crustacean is a rare treat in Australia. My cousins occasionally enjoy it for breakfast when an affordable batch of live crabs arrives home from the morning market or is received as a gift. The bright orange shells splash colour across the table and we prise the sweet crabmeat from within. Dinner or dinner-party dish, it depends on the price of crab near you. Either way, it’s special. It’s also incredibly quick to prepare. If you prefer, ask your fishmonger to clean the crab for you.

 Serves: 4

  • 4 raw blue swimmer crabs (about 1 kg / 2 lb 3 oz)
  • 80 ml (2 ½ fl oz / 1/3 cup) vegetable oil
  • 10 cm (4 inch) piece ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small vine-ripened tomato, roughly chopped
  • 3 lemongrass stems, white part only, bruised
  • 2 long green chiles, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 250 ml (8 ½ fl oz / 1 cup) vegetable stock
  • 250 ml (8 ½ fl oz / 1 cup) coconut milk
  • 250 ml (9 fl oz / 1 cup) coconut cream
  • 2 young cocounts (buko), opened and meat scraped (see method, page 326)
  • Steamed rice, to serve

To prepare each crab, lift the triangular tail flap on the underside of the body and gently but firmly pull down to release the top shell. Remove and discard the flap, reserving the top shell. Remove and discard the spongy, finger-like gills, then replace the shell. Cut the body in half. Using a nutcracker or the blunt edge of a large knife, crack the large claws.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large, deep saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger and cook for 1 minute, stirring until fragrant. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, then add the tomato and cook for a further 3 minutes, stirring and pressing until the tomato starts to break down.

Add the lemongrass, chillies, stock and coconut milk to the pan, season with freshley cracked black pepper, then bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the crab, reduce the heat oto medium, and continue to cook for a further 8-10 minutes, turning over the crab pieces halfway – the crab is cooked when the shell changes colour and the meat turns white. Using tongs, remove the crab pieces to a serving bowl.

Add the coconut cream and young coconut meat to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high , and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring often, until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat, discard the lemongrass and chillies, if desires, and pour over the crab. Serve with steamed rice.

The Heart of Everything That Is: Chief Red Cloud’s Untold Story, Revealed

The writing team of Bob Drury and Tom Clavin are best known to their readers as American military historians. Noted for turning out impeccably researched chronicles, their books range in coverage from World War II and Korea to the Vietnam War and usually grace The New York Times bestseller list. But for all their military acumen, the two had overlooked one of the biggest stories in American history: That of Chief Red Cloud, who led the Western Sioux Nation to victory against the U.S.The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend (Simon & Schuster, November 2013) was born.

Before that, Drury and Clavin had been kicking around a few ideas for their next subject when they found themselves at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico as they accepted an award for Best Nonfiction from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.

“After the ceremony a Marine said to us, ‘You do know about the only Indian to win a war against the United States?’ ” Drury told Indian Country Today Media Network. “We said we were familiar with the Battle of Big Horn and other well-known battles. And then he said, ‘I didn’t say battle, I said war! An entire war.’ And I thought, Why didn’t we know about that?”

The Marine then told them about Red Cloud, chief of the Western Sioux Nation. The two were stunned to discover that the warrior in question was not Geronimo, Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse—proud fighters who most schoolchildren are taught about. They knew then that they had their next book.The Heart of Everything That Is tells Red Cloud’s story in his own words (he related his tale to a third party before he died) and lays out a riveting timeline of the period.

In researching his life, the authors uncovered a wealth of material from diaries and letters written by U. S. military officers and their wives and children, and wilderness trackers, plus a treasure trove of historical information gleaned from the letters and journals of the pioneers who crossed the Great Plains during the 1800s. Indian Country Today Media Network caught up with each author recently to gain insight into what compelled them to learn more about Red Cloud and write, “His overall leadership, his organizing genius, and his ability to persuade contentious tribes to band together…had enabled perhaps the most impressive campaign in the annals of Indian warfare.”

Your book is meticulously researched, full of the smallest details of life on the American Plains. What surprised you most in your studies of that period?

Clavin: The biggest surprise was how little we know of Red Cloud in our popular culture. We know a great deal about Geronimo, Cochise, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. But Red Cloud wasn’t discussed at all in our history books. As we did more research we discovered stories of his exploits and of his importance in Sioux society and their culture and history.

It was shocking to us that he was little more than a footnote to what we know about the American West. It’s been mostly the white academics and white scholars who have written about the Indian. The Indian point of view has been mostly through the observation of others, as with Frances Parkman’s The Oregon Trail.

What drew you to the story of Red Cloud?

Clavin: I was reading a description of the Fetterman massacre and Red Cloud and thought I was pretty well versed in eighteenth-century history. But ultimately when we decided to take on the story of Red Cloud, it became a four-year journey.

Drury: We saw his life was rich during the period of Manifest Destiny. It told of a way of life that had gone on for a millennium. We were accustomed to interviewing living people. But what we found was almost like Twitter, everyone kept a journal back then. Tom went to all the historical societies and university libraries out west and found so many letters. Some of the documents were so fragile that we had to handle them with gloves. Reading these journals was like interviewing living people. It was an amazing discovery. For example, no one knew how the Indians ‘treatied’ with each other.

Would the Plains Indians have survived without the trading posts and contact with whites?

Clavin: They probably would have survived much better! The trading posts were very destructive to them. They seduced the Indians from finding their own food and clothing, which they had always done. It also introduced alcohol to them and brought diseases they had no immunity from, like smallpox and cholera.

What was Red Cloud’s legacy to the Sioux?

Clavin: Once he retired as a military leader and after he could see the growing military power of the white people, he wanted to be sure that the Lakota Sioux and their children had education and medical care. He was an advocate in Washington for funds and other resources to come back to the reservation.

What does the book’s title mean?

Clavin: The Lakota Sioux name for the Black Hills ispaha sapa. The area straddles the border between Wyoming and Southwestern South Dakota. They considered it their sacred territory—where they came from. The translation is “the heart of everything that is.”

Does Red Cloud have descendants?

Clavin: Tribal leaders have been descendants of Red Cloud, the leader of the Oglala Sioux, who was considered their leader until he died in 1909. Then it was Jack, his son, then James, his son, then Oliver Red Cloud, his son who died this past July at 93. His son, Lyman, was supposed to take over as leader, but died two weeks later. I have heard there is now a vacuum in terms of their spiritual figurehead.

Do they still live on the Pine Ridge reservation?

Clavin: Quite a few still do. Though some also attend school outside of the reservation and marry outside, there are still grandchildren and great-great- grandchildren living there.

What surprised you the most in your research?

Drury: Well, there were so many things that surprised me. For example, we have the Alamo, the Battle of Big Horn and the Fetterman fight, which somehow had gotten lost in the mists of time. The story is about the demise of one nation, Red Cloud’s nation, and the rise of another nation, the continental power of the United States—and in the middle of it was the Fetterman fight.

Another was old Jim Bridger, the self-taught trapper and explorer. Why were Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Kitt Carson and all these iconic figures mentioned in our American history books but not Bridger? I think he is the most fascinating character in the book because his story lends so much to the book’s narrative. He and Red Cloud lived almost parallel lives on this vast continent. During this period mapmakers described the vast interior of the country as the great American desert. But during their lifetimes we annexed Texas, fixed the Canadian boundary, defeated Santa Ana and took over many of the western and northwestern states. All of a sudden we were becoming a nation, and at the same time Red Cloud was in charge of what whites considered a nation. So it was inevitable that these two nations were going to clash. And this was witnessed by Jim Bridger and Crazy Horse, among others of the period. I wonder to this day why he is not up there in the pantheon of Western pioneers.

What is your takeaway?

Drury: If we had just honored that final treaty, because Red Cloud’s war never really ended, even though he signed a treaty. It still continues in the courts today, because we broke so many treaties.  But if we had just honored that final treaty that ended Red Cloud’s war, this would be a better country today for everyone.

So why did two white guys think they could write about the history of American Indians?

Drury: My only answer is I didn’t serve in World War II, but that didn’t stop me from writing Halsey’s Typhoon and doing a good job of it. I didn’t serve in the Korean War but that didn’t stop me from writing The Last Stand of Fox Company, and I was even too young for Vietnam, but that didn’t stop us from writing Last Men Out. So in the same sense I don’t think color, age or creed matters when you’ve got a ripping good yarn. And this one’s a great saga with epic sweep.



Cookbooks From the Heart

Jordan Wright
December 16, 2013 

Dozens of fascinating and inspiring cookbooks have landed on our desks this year.  Some from new writers, others from established authors, all eager to bring you into their kitchens and bars to tantalize you with recipes both retro and re-imagined.  I’ve tried to pick out a few that are not on everyone’s radar.  Here are a few that caught my eye…and my palate.

In Great Pub Food: Make Home Your New Local by Rachel Lane (Hardie Grant, London, 2013) the title says it all.  In this nifty book Lane brings over 80 recipes of old school pub fare like Tandoori Chicken Burgers, Beef and Guinness Pie, Cornish Pasties and Rabbit Cacciatore into the home kitchen.  Her desserts are comfort food for Brits and the Anglophiles amongst us.  Two of my favorites are Eton Mess, a dessert that piles on heaps of heavy cream and strawberries, and Chocolate Stout Pudding that uses as an ingredient the creamy head from a glass of stout.  Cozy up to this book before the first snow falls.

Edward Lee is a celebrated Korean chef who has been in Kentucky long enough to reinvent Southern cuisine.  In Smoke & Pickles – Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen (Artisan Books, 2013) he has brought his Korean cooking techniques to bear on classic down-home cooking.

A three-time James Beard Foundation Award finalist for Best Chef: Southeast he has been perfecting his recipes at 610 Magnolia and MilkWood, his two successful restaurants in Louisville, Kentucky, a city he has called home for the past ten years.  In this book he teaches you many of his tricks of the trade – – like how to make your own smoker on the cheap, and how to cure lamb for bacon.  To warm the cockles of your heart, you’ll want to try his Asian-style ribs with kimchee and his Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Peach Glaze.  While the Whiskey-Ginger Cake with Pear Salad is in the oven, you could be making his Pickled Chai Grapes.  Stories of his Korean-American life in Brooklyn, New York add interest to the more than eighty recipes.   According to Lee, “I am hoping to capture the inspirational journey of my life and cooking, even as I struggle to remember last night’s cooking.”

Vegans will want to get in on Vegan Slow Cooking by Kathy Hester (Fair Winds Press 2013).  With over 100 recipes geared to a smaller-sized 1.5- to 2-quart slow cooker (crockpot) it’s a fantastic way to have something hot and hearty waiting for you at the end of a long day.  I’m eager to try the Root Veggie Barley Risotto, Green Beans in Black Bean Sauce with Tofu, or the Bananas Foster for Breakfast – – a dish that cooks overnight.  Perfect for Sunday brunch in bed!

There are delicious-sounding soups like White Bean Barley Soup and Creamy Celery Root Soup.  There’s even a fondue made with almonds and Great Northern beans.  Hester includes recipes for Cashew Cream, a great substitute for soy-free sour cream, and a budget-friendly chapter for DIY spice blends.  Did you know you could bake in your slow cooker?  Hester does, making brownies and even an Apple Chocolate Chip Nut Bread Pudding!  Now if everyone would eat vegan just one day a week…

You may have caught the CNN series Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, in which our hero teams up with local guides to explore some of the world’s most exotic locales.  The episode that most delighted me was the one on Sicily, an autonomous country smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean.  Many times conquered, and thus culinarily influenced by Greece, Italy, North Africa, Turkey and France, it is a wind-swept landscape of farmers and fishermen.

If you’ve ever been captivated by this rugged region…its beauty, its volcanic soil, its hearty foods and its equally hearty wines, pick up a copy of Sicily (Phaidon, 2013) and transport yourself to its charms.  This wonderful book tells the history of the island with nature-inspired photographs and authentic recipes from the nine widely diverse regions of the island – – Siracusa, Palermo, Messina, Enna, Racusa, Catania, Trapani, Caltanisetta and Agrigento.

Most dishes reflect the simplicity of the ingredients and the casual style of preparation from Sicilian pizza, Sfincione, and Timballo, the region’s signature layered pasta dish, to Maltagliati con L’Aggrassatu, a flat pasta with a buttery, cheesy, veal sauce.  Each chapter begins with a beautiful story giving recipes that employ regional indigenous products.

In The Way We Ate: 100 Chefs Celebrate a Century at the American Table (Touchstone, 2013) we can virtually sit at table with today’s most renowned chefs, restaurateurs and food writers (and a singer) from Jacques Pepin, Daniel Boulud and Anita Lo to Chef/Owner Michael Lomonaco of New York’s iconic Windows on the World, Chez Panisse founder Jeremiah Tower and Shanna Pacifico of Back Forty and Back Forty West in Soho.  Celebrated food photographers and The Way We Ate Tumblr bloggers, Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz, have created an extravagantly illustrated cookbook chronicling the rich culinary history of the last American century.  Here’s the twist.  Each chef and food writer has developed an original recipe inspired by a specific year in history from 1901 to 2000.

Local chef extraordinaire José Andrés has dreamed up a re-do of Beijing Glass Noodles, while award-winning chef and cookbook author Jasper White takes a turn at updating Old-Fashioned Cod Cakes.  These are super chef-driven recipes, simply described and with beautiful photographs.  The first one I’ll prepare will be singer Kelly Hogan’s Breaded Pork Chops with Tart Cherry Caraway Port Wine Sauce.  Now where did I stash that bottle of port?

It’s always a good time to throw a party, but in Le Petit Paris: French Finger Food (Hardie Grant, 2013) Nathalie Benezet shows you how to do it the Parisian way.  From Croque Monsieur to Foie Gras Burgers and Camembert Fondue, this adorable book offers chic ideas for any hostess or picnicker.  I particularly like the petite Salade Nicoise in tiny butter lettuce cups for stylish tailgating, and the easy-to-make Grand Marnier Truffles.

For the hipster on your list, you can’t go wrong with Lust for Leaf: Veggie Crowd-Pleasers to Fuel Your Picnics, Potlucks and Ragers (Da Capo 2013) by Alex Brown and Evan George, a.k.a. Hot Knives.  That I don’t know what a “rager” is I’m sure speaks volumes, but no matter, the book is great fun and inspirational in the bargain.  The two gonzo journalists and California denizens have made their mark by partying with their friends and sharing the photos of their outdoor cooking adventures.  I really enjoyed this book, though it took me longer to type out the title than to flip through it, but not so long I couldn’t get a sense that these two wild and crazy guys are as serious about their bourbon as they are about their BBQ, beer pairings and musical suggestions.  Can you make Kale Slaw while drinking Lagunitas beer and digging “Raw Ramp” by T. Rex”?  They’d like you to try.  Peanut Butter, Banana & Pickle Power Bars?  Maybe not.  But if I’m drinking the suggested Stone beer and listening to “Clay Stones” by We Are the World, well, why not?

How would you like to have access to wholesome fresh greens loaded with protein and nutrients even in the middle of winter?  How about right in your own kitchen all year long and for pennies?  Then why not make a garden indoors by growing your own sprouts, a fun and inexpensive activity I haven’t revisited since my college days.

Rita Galchus, author of Homegrown Sprouts (Quarry Books 2013), makes it a snap, to grow your own sprouts explaining three major methods – – from growing them in a Mason jar or using a hemp-sprouting bag or even a sprouting tray specifically made for this simple task.  Anyone can do it and kids will get a kick out of growing their own food.  A big trend now is chia seed pudding, which I have seen at Le Pain Quotidian and Whole Foods.  But why not make your own?  It’s a snap.

The book has 200 helpful photographs and ideas for how to incorporate nutrient-rich sprouts into your breads, salads, juices and spreads.  You can even share these phyto-packed treats with your pets.  Most sprouts only take a few days to pop out of their tiny seeds and provide a super-nutritional food source.  Try radish, barley, arugula, rice, flax and sesame, or grow your own snow pea and sunflower shoots used by chefs in some of the best restaurants.

Local and Notable 

One of Virginia’s most colorful and delightful food and wine writers comes to us from the Hampton Roads and Chesapeake regions.  Patrick Evans-Hylton, co-host of NPR’s locally produced show What’s Cooking Wednesday and food reporter for The Hampton Roads Show has written a marvelous compendium of Virginia recipes. It’s called Dishing Up Virginia.  Using his extensive knowledge of colonial foods and recipes from some of the Commonwealth’s best chefs, Evans-Hylton has crammed the book with evocative photos from bay to farm.  It’s a marvelous collection that belongs on every Southern cook’s shelf.  Follow Patrick at

Local food writer and pop culture archaeologist Nevin Martell has teamed up with Farmers Restaurant Group and Executive Chef Joe Goetze to create a cookbook showcasing the recipes from Founding Farmers restaurant.  The Founding Farmers Cookbook: 100 Recipes for True Food & Drink from the Restaurant Owned by American Family Farmers (Andrew McMeel Publishing 2013) is a healthful, casual, rustic style of cuisine featuring recipes that use the farm-sourced products incorporated in their seasonal menus.  If you’ve ever dined at the DC-based restaurant you’ve most likely swooned over the Seven-Cheese Mac & Cheese Salmon, Crab and Lobster Devil-ish Eggs, or the Many Vegetable Salad with 13 different veggies.  Healthy never tasted so heavenly!   These recipes and dozens of other well-loved classic dishes are given here.  As Founding Farmers co-partner Mike Vucurevitch puts it, “ A lot of dishes were based on my travels throughout America, which have taken me to every state.  Sometimes my life feels like that Johnny Cash song “I’ve Been Everywhere”.   To catch more of Martell’s adventures in food writing follow him at

Italian cookbook writer and regular contributor to the Washington Post, Domenica Marchetti, tackles her fifth topic with The Glorious Vegetables of Italy (Chronicle Books 2013).  Here veggies get 100 chances to shine.  It is a tribute to her Abruzzian mother who taught her to roll pasta as a child that Marchetti is expert in all things from an Italian kitchen, both traditional and modern.  The vegetable-centric recipes range from soups to antipasti and main dishes to desserts.  Some include meat but not as the featured performer.  Grilled Lamb Spiedini on a Bed of Eggplant Caponata, Carrot Polenta Cake with Marsala and Pumpkin Gelato show Marchetti’s versatility in the kitchen.  Pizza, calzone, panini and pastas are well represented here too.  Exquisite photographs by Sang An highlight the beauty of these soulful dishes.

On January 23rd Marchetti will present a five-course dinner featuring dishes from the cookbook at the National Press Club in DC.  Wine pairings are included.  For details on the ticketed event visit

In Visual Eats: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Modern Italian Cooking (Keith Publications, 2013) renowned DC chef Enzo Fargione shares stories of his upbringing in Turin, Italy alongside insider tales of his restaurant experiences.  Known for his culinary sorcery in dishes that stunned the food world when he was at Teatro Goldoni (like the dazzling Four-Minute Smoked Branzino Carpaccio served in a cigar box which your humble scribe has had but once and never forgotten) are here revealed and tailored for the home cook.  Now helming the kitchen at his own DC restaurant Osteria Elisir, Fargione aims to reach out and teach the average cook how to be a wizard in the kitchen.

Pati Jinich, Executive Chef at DC’s Mexican Cultural Institute and host of the PBS television series Pati’s Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2013) has written a companion cookbook of recipes from the show.  As in her show the petite blonde with the fiery cuisine shows how you can easily create regional Mexican dishes from Veracruz to Michoacan in your own home.  Follow her on

Cocktail Confessional 

In Shake, Stir, Pour (Quarry Books, 2013) by Philadelphia mixologist Katie M. Loeb you’ll find beverage recipes both with and without the use of spirits.  I’m a sucker for any book that tells a story about each concoction and Loeb does.  There are more than four dozen nicely photographed recipes that use her basic syrups and infusions.  I loved the Rhubarb, Pear and Thai Basil syrups, as well as infusions like Jalapeno-Cilantro Vodka and Limoncello.  The book’s foreword is penned by uber-chef and Philly restaurateur, José Garcés, which gives you an idea of the company Loeb keeps.

As a noted bartender, sommelier and creator of craft cocktails who has written for Bon Appetit, the Los Angeles Times and Food & Wine, Loeb will have you making and shaking up a “Gin-Gin Mule” or a “Rosalind Russell”, a throwback cocktail from New York City’s Stork Club Bar Book published in 1946.  She even gives a recipe for the Aquavit that’s used in the drink.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town – Interview with Top Chef Master Marcus Samuelsson

Jordan Wright
August 7, 2012
Special to Washington Life

Top Chef Master Marcus Samuelsson at the Howard Theatre, Washington, DC - photo credit Jordan Wright

Top Chef Master Marcus Samuelsson at the Howard Theatre, Washington, DC – photo credit Jordan Wright

A child is seated on the grass in the Land of the Midnight Sun, his attention drawn downward by a clump of flowers.  They are everywhere stretching across the rolling hillside as far as the eye can see, but he is focused on collecting specific elements for a simple bouquet clutched in his tiny left hand.  A striped knit cap is pulled down tightly over his head.  He is five.  He appears curious and self-assured, methodical and intense, traits he evidences in no small measure to this day.  The scene is from a black and white photograph out of Marcus Samuelsson’s latest book, “Yes, Chef”, an autobiographical journey that opens with his earliest memories of his adoption from his native Ethiopia. 3,700 miles as the crow flies, to Sweden.

Marcus Samuelsson’s ascendancy to Top Chef Master is no fluke.  Hard work, numerous television appearances and a slew of cookbooks have shown a bright light on his skills and restaurants.  His unique path to a life in professional kitchens began when he was cut from his small town of Göteborg’s soccer club because of his slight frame.  “I sometimes think of myself more as a failed soccer player than an accomplished chef,” he admits.

For a while he knocked around a few local restaurants until landing in Switzerland where he trained under the old European hierarchical system where Larousse Gastronomique and Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire were the bibles of French cooking.  There he was put to the test in a brutally exhaustive regime fraught with demeaning work, withering insults from head chefs and inhumane hours.  The system offered internships to Michelin-starred restaurants where the treatment of young chefs was equally as intense.  Samuelsson not only survived, unlike many of his peers, but thrived, learning the intricacies and pitfalls of the business from the inside out and perfecting a disciplined mind that would rival that of an Eastern mystic.

Over the years and throughout his travels Samuelsson kept a diary of his food experiences carefully recording the regional dishes he learned to prepare and daydreaming about how he would do them differently when the time came to open his own restaurant – a time that would come when he could at last merge international flavors with traditional cuisine.  That day came in 2011 with the opening of Red Rooster in New York’s Harlem where he has put down roots in the city he has come to call his own.

Ambessa Teas

Ambessa Teas

Last month I sat down with him in the newly restored Howard Theatre in Washington, DC where he has created the venue’s current menu and where he was preparing to discuss and sign his latest book along with an onstage cooking demo.  He kindly brewed me a cup of Choco Nut Blend from his new line of Ambessa specialty teas he has created this year for Harney and Sons.

Jordan Wright – You say in your book that a jazz musician looks for a new kind of perfect as going “deep in the shed”.  Does that apply to you?

Marcus Samuelsson – Yes!  Well, sometimes.  For me perfection can be different things.  When I started cooking French food we were serving only about two percent of the population.  Now I find perfection in berbere [an Ethiopian spice mix] and the countryside of Ethiopia where I’ve found the smells and flavors that I didn’t know how to value earlier in my life.  Perfection can mean different things at different times in your life.

JW – You mention in your book wanting to hang out with Keith Haring and Madonna.  Who would you like to hang out with now that you haven’t yet met?

MS – It’s been planned for me to cook for Nelson Mandela and that would be really nice.  It just hasn’t worked out yet.

JW – Who are the chefs that you most admire today?

MS – My grandmother, who was not a professional but got me going, Charlie Trotter who embraced me early in my career, and I love what Alice Waters has contributed to American cooking.  Also I look up to Daniel Boulud and the so many of the unknown chefs who are not yet recognized for their craft.

JW – Are you working with any new ingredients?

MS – Well, not new.  I love discovering the ancient Ethiopian foods and presenting them to a non-Ethiopian crowd.  It’s fun to treat things a little bit differently like using the chili-like berbere with chocolate or on popcorn.

JW – Who’s been the greatest influence in your life?

MS – My mom and my dad who always gave me guidance.  My grandmother giving love and cooking, my parents for my schooling, and my Ethiopian mother who gave me the ultimate sacrifice by making sure we [Samuelsson’s sister was adopted into the same family] would survive.

JW – Your book has a powerful message to future chefs that they should be tough, detailed and methodical.  Do you think artistry ever trumps hard work?

MS – Cooking is a great craft because it’s a balance between craftsmanship, traditions, storytelling, artistry, finance and marketing.  It’s all of those things.

JW – Do you believe that people have an innate talent for cooking?

MS – I’m a firm believer that you have to work on your talent constantly.  I’m always traveling and asking myself questions.  Talent will get you in the room, but it’s not going to help if you don’t have a good work ethic and curiosity.  It’s evolution, evolution, evolution!

JW – Was the White House State Dinner for the Prime Minister of India hosted by the Obamas one of the highlights of your career?

MS – Absolutely! It was a huge honor to be a part of the team on such a big day where so much of the cooking came down to care as well as research.

JW – Let’s talk about your experience on Top Chef Masters.

MS – I learned so much from being with Susan Feniger and Jonathan Waxman, friends that I so much admire, American chefs that came from California and were part of a cuisine revolution that we didn’t have in Europe.  What’s great about the show was sitting around before the filming and listening to how they started in a truck back in the 70’s with no money.  It was very inspirational. I remember moments that were not caught on tape like when my back went out and Susur Lee was giving me a massage because I could not move.  There was such a camaraderie there that you cannot describe.

JW – Do you want to talk about the menu you’ve created for tonight?

MS – It’s really a fun menu.  I will celebrate Sweden with its gravlax, go into Harlem with the fried chicken, and then there’s a hash that features Ethiopian flavors, finishing with the chocolate pancake with roasted cherries and blueberries.  It’s comfort food and all the things that speak home to me.  I’m really excited to be here in the historic Howard Theatre and to witness the resurgence of the neighborhood.

This interview was conducted, condensed and edited by Jordan Wright.

The Thirteenth Step – One Man’s Odyssey of Redemption An interview with Robert Hayward (Winnebago)

Jordan Wright
March 10, 2012
Special to Indian Country Today Magazine

The Thirteenth Step by Robert Hayward - photo credit Mark Chambers

The Thirteenth Step by Robert Hayward - photo credit Mark Chambers

By the time author Robert Hayward (Winnebago) decided to write about his journey to redemption in The Thirteenth Step – One Man’s Odyssey of Recovery, he had been through hell and back.  His resume read like a psych report – drug dealer, addict and full-blown alcoholic.  After 26 years of self-destruction his physical health had suffered, his mind had deteriorated, and his relationships with his parents, wife and three kids were on a fast track to nowhere.

What makes this revelatory book so compelling is Hayward’s honesty and heartfelt sincerity coupled with his admission of failure and his decision to turn to tribal wisdom to heal.  It is an intriguing insight into the Native American Church’s peyote cleansing rituals yet a cautionary tale to all substance abusers.  Though the Church’s practice of using peyote as a sacred sacrament in its ceremonies is perfectly legal for tribal members [under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994], it is still controversial and fraught with negative connotations since the 1960’s when it was used experimentally by the counter culture.

To this day there are very few members permitted to conduct this sacred religious ritual and they are referred to as ‘Roadmen’.  During the lengthy, ritualistic event, Hayward experienced powerful revelations.  Eventually with the trust and guidance of the church’s leaders he was granted permission to reveal the ceremony to the outside world and give his profoundly personal account.

Interview with Robert Hayward

Jordan Wright – You seem to have emerged from a nightmare of alcoholism and drug addiction like a phoenix rising from the ashes.  What have been the rewards?

Robert Hayward – I started out using at age 14, so for 26 years I was in a daze.  Yet immediately after walking out of that tipi my life has been clear.  From then on I have been alive.

I knew I was reaching rock bottom.  I remember fishing with my sons and I was in a fog.  I was looking at them and had an out of body experience like, ‘I’m not participating.  I’m just a drunken mess.’   But now I have clarity, plus I developed a compassion for people that have the same problem.  I wanted to reach out and help and that’s why I went back to school to study to become a counselor.  It really reinforced my need to prevent other people from falling into the same trap.

JW – Why didn’t you succumb to any of the dangers associated with drug and alcohol use?

RH – I was never arrested because I was selling to the cops and I knew when busts were going down.  But there was always danger.  And the fact that I’m alive is amazing since I’ve been to over 200 funerals over the years and most were related to alcohol or drugs.  Most of the people I grew up with are either dead or in jail or still on drugs or alcohol.

JW – It seems almost like a cult of tragedy.

RH – Yes, in a way we loved the drama.  We lived for it.  It was like – who could be the most distraught.

JW – Do you think there is another way to reach young people or addicts without the use of peyote in a healing ceremony?  And as you go forward as a counselor how you think your ways will be most effective?

RH – My primary focus will be the treatment of Native Americans.  But on the other hand I still counsel as a volunteer at A Better Tomorrow, a treatment center here, and of course I don’t use peyote there.  Basically alcohol addiction is universally a spiritual problem and it only has a spiritual solution.  If you look at the twelve-step program, the third step is the key. And I tell people if you can’t take the first two steps of the program, don’t waste your time with the rest of the steps.  You have to turn your will and your life over to God as you understand him – you have to have a higher power.  And that really is the key and how you go about that is a personal thing.

No matter what race people are, they have indigenous roots and people respond well to simple things like a campfire at night.  I’ll take a group of young people and we’ll talk in a circle and it’s a type of spirituality.  It has a calming effect.  I’ll put the cedar in the fire and bless them with the feathers and we talk using the same rules as the tipi.  They open up and talk, as opposed to sitting in a treatment room where they tell you, “You have 45 minutes to spill your guts.”  Even a group of strangers will bond.  I think the key is to create a bond.  We also pass around water to get the four elements going.  Once you have shared a night together in a ceremony, you become a relative to everyone there – no longer separated by blood, but bonded by the spirit.

The trend is to turn towards a chemical short-term solution to get the addict through the early stages of abstinence so that they have a better chance at avoiding relapse.  The problem is that there’s a 96% or 97% failure rate in the recovery field and which creates a revolving door in some of these treatment centers that charge up to $30,000 per month, so they’re not super anxious to fix it because people keep coming back and the insurance companies keep paying for it.  If they can get three cycles out of each person they’re not real motivated for success.

JW – Can you talk about your interest in starting national programs to help addicts?

RH – I’ll work with John Halpern, MD [Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Director of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Center] for who is looking for grants for programs for Native Americans.

The model would be to have an area on a reservation with four tipis and separate the sexes.  We’d take the hardcore repeaters for the first night and run them through the ceremony – though it’s critical they go through chemical detox first.  Then we would have a ceremony for everyone with members of the Native American Church in order to make a complete circle.  What you do in a month in a treatment center, you can do in one night in a tipi.  This will speed up their recovery and open up their heart.  They would live without cell phones or TVs and we’d have drumming and songs and eating outside.  Ideally we would have horses too.  What I really want to see from this program is real success.  I want to see people not identifying themselves as an addict, which I see as incredibly negative affirmation.

What we have in the Native American Church is a support system for Indian people because it becomes a lifestyle.  The social aspects are incredible after we go through the ceremonial night – the bonding is incredible.  And then the next morning we become as relatives.  It has a lasting bond that becomes our identities.  The spiritual aspect is important as well.  They have to get a sustainable program going whatever group or church they’re in.  I want to start a system that is positive for people – to talk about things that are better. There is a huge demand for that.

JW – Can you talk about the importance of spiritual education from our elders?

RH – That was one of the things that really struck me in that ceremony because the way it works is that ‘The Roadman’ runs it and also speaks throughout the night and different people will talk as the medicine leads you.  He will give elder wisdom during the night.  There is a huge value to it.

When I counsel kids I ask them what is your real tribal name and clan and then I send them to their elders to talk to them.  A lot of these guys think the idea of being Indian is hanging a feather on the rearview mirror of their truck.  They don’t even know anything about their family or their tribe, so they lost that identity which then becomes games and alcohol and drugs.  Once they sit down and talk to their elders, who are dying to talk to these kids, they come back all excited with stories.  It totally changes the way they look at themselves.

The elders would teach us and raise us the way we are supposed to be raised.  It’s a huge problem that what we do in all of society is put our elders in housing and separate them – let them rot and grow old.  But what you can learn from the elders is stuff you can’t get from books or anywhere else.  Unfortunately what you see now is that kids have no respect for elders anymore.  And it’s sad.  You miss the generational connection without that.

TiPi in Daylight - photo credit Robert Hayward.

TiPi in Daylight - photo credit Robert Hayward.

In tribal groups I talk about the concept of ‘seven generations’.  Seven generations ago my ancestors were praying that I would be alive today and that’s the only reason that I am alive.  Our duty is to pray for the next seven generations so that there is still clean air and still clean water and still a place to hide in the trees.

We need to keep that continuous cycle so that we don’t just pray for today or tomorrow and live our life that way.  The reason that Indian people are having this problem right now is because we are living in the seventh generation since the conquest.  So many Indian people were chased off or diseased that they didn’t have the opportunity to pray for this generation, so the circle was broken at that point.   We miss those prayers and a lot of the reason we have these problems now is that our ancestors were unable to pray for us.

So there’s this revival about the seventh generation and it’s in all kinds of prophesies that amongst this current generation young kids will rise up and they will they will have dreams and visions and start to bring back the old ways and start reviving the traditions and I’m seeing that, kids that are learning the songs and how to drum at nine years old and you can see the power coming out of them.  The best thing that I see happening is the young kids at the pow wows are starting to dress up again and dance and that’s where you see the connection with their elders who are trying to pass this on to the kids.  The kids look up to them and that’s where I see the hope.

JW – What has the response been to your talks?

RH – They are really well received, especially when I start off with the video on my website [] and the crowd will grow, they really get into the story.  Nowadays there is a technological separation because of texting, etc.  It’s become a novelty to talk to each other.  But for me I feed on the energy of the group.  I let them know that it’s time we stood up and became accountable.  We owe it to our ancestors to get this right.  We have to stop this cycle of drinking.  Indian people did not drink.  There was no such thing as fermented drink.  We lack the enzymes to process alcohol or sugar.  It ruins our lives – the abuse and everything.  People need to hear that there is hope.  We need to start giving them something.

I am realizing that the true niche for this book is all Native Americans, because we haven’t had a book written by one of us with our perspective and way of life fully explained in a long time, if ever.  It is fast becoming a book that we as Indians can call our own.

We have the opportunity as spiritual caretakers of this land to hear the words of our ancestors because they [the words] are floating in the wind.  Their blood is in these rivers and we are part of this earth.  Our ancestors are waiting for us to call on them to heal and we have that opportunity.  I hear that drumbeat sitting inside the tipi and I get this incredible feeling.  We have to reconnect with that ground because it’s ours – it’s all sacred ground.  We all have to put more respect back into the earth.