Chef Freddie Bitsoie Wants to Show You a New Side of Native Cuisine

On Location

Chef Freddie Bitsoie with his cookbook

The Spruce Eats / Todd Coleman / Amelia Manley

Welcome to On Location, where we talk to the coolest cooks and makers around the country about what's inspiring them right now.

Chef Freddie Bitsoie wants you to see Native cuisine in a whole new light. After serving as Executive Chef for Mitsitam Native Foods Café located inside the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., he turned his focus to the written word. His new cookbook, New Native Kitchen, explores Native American cuisine in its modern forms. "It's about getting traditional recipes and making them modern and new," Bitsoie explains.

"There's so much complexity when it comes to Native food, it's not just boring, bland, and grainy. It's not all porridges," says Bitsoie. "I want to talk about today's recipes and where Native food is going."

What was the process like for developing the Three Sisters Bean Stew?

The bean soup is really about my travels in and around the Southwest and my interaction with people from other tribes. There's a cultural center in Albuquerque that has a pueblo-centric restaurant. I went there a long time ago and that's where I experienced the bean soup—pueblos like to incorporate a lot of beans in their food. I developed this recipe in my own way but it also acknowledges where I learned it from.

What's the #1 thing you'd like people to know about modern Native cuisine?

The ingredients are abundant and easy to acquire. It's not as academic and technical or as difficult as it's presented to be. Sixty percent of the world's ingredients came from the western hemisphere, so the majority of those ingredients are in local supermarkets. The food is all around us.

What surprised you while writing the book?

It made me realize how difficult it is to explain how to cook something to someone. That's probably the hardest thing I had to deal with. I do a lot of cooking demos, so I think I'm pretty good at explaining things. Sometimes I thought something was clear, but James, my co-writer, would point things out. The wording was very meticulous for me.

What are the top three spices in your home kitchen?

I use juniper berries, sumac, and a lot of chili powder. I use whole juniper berries and I make a great juniper syrup that goes great with salmon. New Mexico is really spoiled with great fresh chiles, but I always tell people to keep [chili powder] in their pantry. It lasts forever and it's great to use on pork and things like that.

What three people would you like to have dinner with, dead or alive?

The first one would be Luciano Pavarotti. I've always thought he must eat so well and I watched a documentary about him. It'd be great to sit with Pavarotti and eat. Also Natalie Merchant and... I'd like to talk with Tom Brokaw. I can imagine that [at] this table no one would be touching their food, they'd just be talking.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite snack food? Chips and salsa
  • Favorite cookbook? Not because I'm in it, but America: The Cookbook
  • Coffee order? Black, hot or iced
  • Essential kitchen tool? Chef's knife
  • Best thing you've eaten lately? Linguine bolognese
  • Worst thing you've eaten lately? Caesar salad