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Reinventing commodity food to make healthy cuisine

Pro chefs show TERS students how to make different foods

By Adriana Fehrs

Matt and Ben, owners of the Tocabe Restaurant of Denver Colorado, take a second to pose with Two Eagle River School students. The National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations partnered with Matt and Ben to documenting their tour of Northwestern Tribes, where they will get ideas for dishes at their restaurant while teaching communities different ways to cook using commodity foods. Pictured left to right: Matt Chandra (co-owner of Tocabe Restaurant), Youstah Eneas, Dashane Hewankorn, Zac Tapia, Ban Jacobs (co-owner of Tocabe Restaurant), Jermahia Charlo, and Alexia Pierre. (Adriana Fehrs photo)Matt and Ben, owners of the Tocabe Restaurant of Denver Colorado, take a second to pose with Two Eagle River School students. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

PABLO — On Tuesday February 25, the National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations - better known as ‘commodity foods’ - visited with Two Eagle River School to perform a cooking demonstration with Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra, owners of Tocabe Restaurant in Denver, Colorado, to help change individual’s perspectives on cooking with commodity foods.

Ben Jacobs (Pictured left) and Matt Chandra (pictured right), owners of the Tocabe Restaurant of Denver Colorado, sit with Two Eagle River School students to talk about Traditional Native American foods. They are partnering with the National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations, A.KA. Commodity foods, to visit reservations to change Natives’ perspective on cooking with commodity foods. (Adriana Fehrs photo)Ben Jacobs (Pictured left) and Matt Chandra (pictured right), owners of the Tocabe Restaurant of Denver Colorado, sit with Two Eagle River School students to talk about Traditional Native American foods. They are partnering with the National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations, A.KA. Commodity foods, to visit reservations to change Natives’ perspective on cooking with commodity foods. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

The Mountain Plains Region Nutrition Advisory Committee (MPRNAC) for the NAFDPIR recently received a one-year ‘Nutritional Education’ grant from the USDA to provide relevant nutritional events on reservations. They named the project “Reawakening Community, Culture, and Cuisine.” Mary Greene, Director of the Spirit Lake Food Distribution Program and member of the MPRNAC, says, “The goal of the project is to teach that it’s not just commodities in a box, but a way to feed your family.” With the funds, the committee set out on November 13 to visit thirty tribes in the North West Region of the United States.

Ben Jacobs, co-owner of the Tocabe Restaurant of Denver Colorado, smiles as he demonstrates to several Two Eagle River School students the different meals that can be made using a commodity foods package. After the National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations was awarded a grant, they partnered with Ben and Matt to document them traveling to various Northwestern Tribes showing Natives new recipes using commodity foods. (Adriana Fehrs Photo)Ben Jacobs, co-owner of the Tocabe Restaurant of Denver Colorado, smiles as he demonstrates to several Two Eagle River School students the different meals that can be made using a commodity foods package. After the National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations was awarded a grant, they partnered with Ben and Matt to document them traveling to various Northwestern Tribes showing Natives new recipes using commodity foods. (Adriana Fehrs Photo)

Greene and Roxanna Newsom, members of the MPRNAC, met Jacobs and Chandra, owners of the Tocabe Restaurant, while visiting Denver. They ate at the Tocabe Restaurant and liked how the owners dished up traditional Native American foods with a modern twist. Greene and Newsom saw this as an opportunity to partner with Jacobs and Chandra to do the project, but with a twist. Greene says, “They really brought the project to life.”

Jacobs and Chandra joined the project to help teach Native Americans how to cook with a commodity foods package in a new and different way, while also getting ideas for new menu items at their restaurant. Newsom says, “This project gave Matt and Ben the opportunity to grow their business.”

Matt Chandra, co-owner of the Tocabe Restaurant of Denver Colorado, prepares for a cooking demonstration at the Camas Kitchen at SKC. Ben and Matt partnered with the National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations to do a tour of various Northwestern Tribes to show Native Americans new recipes using commodity foods. One stop on their tour was at the Two Eagle River School in Pablo. They cooked in front of several students, demonstrating different meals that can be made using a commodity foods package. (Adriana Fehrs Photo)Matt Chandra, co-owner of the Tocabe Restaurant of Denver Colorado, prepares for a cooking demonstration at the Camas Kitchen at SKC. Ben and Matt partnered with the National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations to do a tour of various Northwestern Tribes to show Native Americans new recipes using commodity foods. One stop on their tour was at the Two Eagle River School in Pablo. They cooked in front of several students, demonstrating different meals that can be made using a commodity foods package. (Adriana Fehrs Photo)

Some of the stops on their tour included several locations on the Flathead Indian Reservation including the Two Eagle River School. The MPRNAC contacted Matt Pierre, the director of the Tribal Nutrition & Commodity Programs in St. Ignatius to set up an event. They then contacted Frank Tyro, Director, Media -KSKC-TV, to film and document their event.

Jacobs and Chandra, members of both the MPRNAC and NAFDPIR, and KSKC-TV visited Two Eagle River School to conduct a cooking demonstration using commodity foods. First, they sat down with five TERS students: Tyrell Love Grove, Deshane Hewankorn, Jermahia Charlo, Zac Tapia, Youstah Eneas, and Alexia Pierre to talk about traditional Native American foods that the students eat, and to talk about eating on a budget while being healthy. After talking with the students, Jacobs and Chandra traveled over to the Camas Kitchen on SKC campus to cook.

One of the meals Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra demonstrated to Two Eagle River School Students was simple ‘sliders’, using beef, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and bread from the commodity food package. Their goal is to change Native Americans’ perspectives on cooking with commodity foods. (Adriana Fehrs photo)One of the meals Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra demonstrated to Two Eagle River School Students was simple ‘sliders’, using beef, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and bread from the commodity food package. Their goal is to change Native Americans’ perspectives on cooking with commodity foods. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

To start out the demonstration, Jacobs and Chandra made a trail mix using the dry fruit nut mix, raisins, cereal and peanuts - all from the commodity foods package. They say, “our goal is cooking simply and changing expectations.”

Next, the pair showed the students how to make ‘sliders’. From the food package they used ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, cheese, and bread. They used some garlic salt, salt and pepper, but informed the students that they would have to go buy them, because they are not included in the food package. Using mostly ingredients from the commodity foods package, they were able to make the small burger ‘sliders’ and show the students some cooking tips.

Two Eagle River School students Zac Tapia and Youstah Eneas chow down on the sliders made during the demonstration on cooking with commodity foods. Their Home Cultures teacher Kathy Tapia smiles and looks onward. (Adriana Fehrs photo)Two Eagle River School students Zac Tapia and Youstah Eneas chow down on the sliders made during the demonstration on cooking with commodity foods. Their Home Cultures teacher Kathy Tapia smiles and looks onward. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Nachos were the last meal demonstrated to the TERS students. They piled the famous commodity cheese on top of tortilla chips and a mix of ground beef and beans. They showed students how they could make their own pico de gallo using tomatoes and red peppers from the food package, only needing cilantro, jalapenos, and lime juice from a store.

Pierre says they hope to use the video footage in commodity food warehouses all over. “The NAFDPIR wants to make the documentary into short videos that would be played on a loop at warehouses across the region. So while the people are picking up their commodity foods they can see the videos and get ideas on new recipes.”

Two Eagle River School students Tyrell Love grove and Alexia Pierre assist with the cooking demonstration at the Camas Kitchen on Tuesday February 25. The demonstration was part of a tour of the National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservation was conducting after they received a grant to document their travels; they hope to use the footage as a way to show Native Americans different ways to cook commodity foods. (Adriana Fehrs photo)Two Eagle River School students Tyrell Love grove and Alexia Pierre assist with the cooking demonstration at the Camas Kitchen on Tuesday February 25. The demonstration was part of a tour of the National Association of Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservation was conducting after they received a grant to document their travels; they hope to use the footage as a way to show Native Americans different ways to cook commodity foods. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

The Tribal Nutrition & Commodity Programs warehouse for the Flathead Indian reservation is located in St.Ignatius behind the fitness center. It is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m to 4:30 p.m. They can be contacted at (406) 745-4115.

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