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An Interview with Chef Brave Heart

This #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth we would like to feature renowned Native American culinary artist and caterer, Chef Kimberly Tilsen-Brave Heart (Oglala Lakota Sioux). She shares some of her favorite heritage recipes with us in hopes that this year you may gather together to create a feast that celebrates the flavors of a traditional Indigenous diet.

You can learn more about Chef Brave Heart by visiting or @chefbraveheart on Instagram.

Tell us a little about yourself.

“I am Kimberly Tilsen-Brave Heart, enrolled citizen of Oglala Sioux Tribe. I am a 6th generation entrepreneur. I have owned my own business management firm for the past 17 years and have assisted in the development of over 197 Native businesses throughout Indian country. I am a mother of three and come from a family of committed social justice activists."

Why did you decide to become a chef?

“I grew up in a single dad home, with only brothers. My pop is what I would call a survival cook. He throws together a mashup of ingredients and hopes for the best. Ha! I hated it. I called my grandmother and asked her to teach me the essentials of cooking. I started really cooking at the age of 10 and fell in love with it. Food is how I communicate my love to the people I care about and share it with the world. 4 years ago I wanted to pivot and do something that sparked my creativity that's when I built my commercial kitchen and opened my catering company.”

How has your food evolved over the years, and which chefs have had the most influence on you?

“My food has become more refined over the years, I enjoy creating elegant food experiences for my customers. Sean Sherman is definitely a huge influence on my cooking his commitment to decolonizing our diets and ingredients to tell our cultural stories through food has been hugely impactful on me. I also love Ina Garten she reminds me of my grandmother her recipes are clear, simple to follow, and always interesting. Also one of my dear friends Marty is also self taught, but an incredible Indigenous chef and is always encouraging me to do better, and strive for more perfection.”

What new ingredient is inspiring you right now?

“Bison is my favorite ingredient. Not everyone can cook it well because of its limited fat content. It is the most essential ingredient of the Lakota people. It is how we sustained ourselves historically and I believe it is why we still exist today. It is literally medicine for our bodies and spirits. It continues to inspire me to honor it and make something innovative and creative with it.”

Do you think being a great chef is a natural talent, or is it something anyone can learn?

“I think there are components that come natural, part of cooking is following your intuition, but I think most people can be taught.”

Do you have any words of wisdom for young people who are trying to create change for themselves?

“Whatever it is that you are interested in pursuing study the subject, work at it everyday not for anyone else but for you. I cook every single day. I watch cooking shows, I watch fellow chefs, I live and breathe cooking so I can work to improve my craft. Let your passion drive you and you will never fail.”

Hassle-back Maple & Apple Cider Roasted Squash

• 1 large butternut squash

(about 3 lbs. total)

• 1 tbsp olive oil

• kosher salt, freshly ground


• ¼ cup pure maple syrup,

preferably grade B

• 3 tbsp unsalted butter

• 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

• 1 tbsp garlic powder

• 6–8 Dried bay leaves

Step 1

Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 425°. Halve squash lengthwise and scoop out seeds with a large spoon. Using a peeler, remove skin and white flesh below (you should reach the deep orange flesh). Rub all over with oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast in a baking dish just large enough to hold halves side by side until beginning to soften (a paring knife should easily slip in only about ¼"), 15–18 minutes.

Step 2

Meanwhile, maple syrup, butter, garlic and apple cider vinegar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high, stirring occasionally and removing until just thick enough to coat spoon, 6–8 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and keep glaze warm. Watch closely and do not burn.

Step 3

Transfer squash to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Using a sharp knife, score rounded sides of squash halves crosswise, going as deep as possible but without cutting all the way through. Return squash to baking dish, scored sides up, and tuck bay leaves between a few of the slices; season with salt and pepper.

Step 4

Roast squash, basting with glaze every 10 minutes or so and using pastry brush to lift off any glaze in dish that is browning too much, until tender and glaze forms a rich brown coating, 45–60 minutes.

Brave Heart Slow Roasted Buffalo

• 6-8 lbs. Buffalo chuck roast

• 1 stick of unsalted butter or 1 cup

of duck fat

• 1 tbsp of kosher salt

• 1 tbsp of garlic powder

• 1 tbsp of smoked paprika

• 1 tsp of olive oil

Step 1

Pat dry roast with a paper towel to

remove all moisture. Drizzle olive oil,

add salt, garlic, and paprika.

Step 2

Generously rub both sides of the roast.

You are rubbing the spices into the

muscle of the meat. Work it, put your

back into it. 5 min both sides.

Step 3

Turn on grill 400-450 degrees - full


Grill each side of the roast for 6 minutes.

You are building a crust to retain


Step 4

Place in crock pot on high. Add stick of butter on top. For 1 hour, reduce heat to low and cook for 8-10 hours.

Serve over squash.

American Indian Services is dedicated to helping Native Americans have access to a quality education, while still preserving their culture and honoring their heritage. Let's come together to raise scholarship funds for the next generation. By donating today, you can help more Native American students create brighter futures for themselves, their families, and their communities.


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