A Q&A With 'Chopped' Contestant David Ruiz
What Is Unique About Native American Cuisine?
It’s rich in tradition. There’s a history with almost everything, from the fry bread to the stews. It takes a long time to develop flavors, it feeds off the land and really embodies the farm-to-table approach. New Mexican and Native American cross a lot. I think about how we can look at these cuisines in a different way. How do we pay homage and push it to a new level? I attempt to bring both styles together and elevate them.
Is Native American Cuisine Becoming Popular?
Yeah, we’re starting to see a foodie crowd. Native American cuisine is the first cuisine of America. It was here first, and it’s here to stay. It’s going to be the next big trend, and only a couple of chefs in the country are doing it. People were initially a bit skeptical of Ethiopian and Vietnamese food, but now are embracing those cuisines.
How Do You Develop New Dishes for Your Menu?
I’ve immersed myself in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s archives, and I go to the feast days and observe different styles to modernize old techniques and medicines for new Native American cuisine. For example, chokecherries grow all over the state. They’re used as snuff and to cure stomach ailments. We started making jam out of them, and used them for our homemade barbecue sauce. Sumac was traditionally used for headaches, but we steep the berries and make a drink, sauces, and purees to smoke fish.
What Are Some of Your Favorite Dishes?
The Tewa taco is our version of the Indian frybread taco. Fry bread is a Native American staple. We top ours with pueblo beans, local ground beef, red or green chile, lettuce, cheese, diced tomatoes, and onion. We’ve won best fry-bread taco for the past 11 years. We also make Kool-aid pickles. At Cochiti Pueblo, the kids were running around with red hands and mouths. They take Kool-Aid powder and mix it with pickles for an incredible flavor. We thought they’d be even better fried in fresh blue corn. We’re modernizing things native to the pueblos.