Make us your home page

American Indian cuisine expert to speak at Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg

Lois Ellen Frank

Lois Ellen Frank

If you think you know something about American Indian cuisine, you might be surprised to find out what you don't know after listening to Lois Ellen Frank, one of the nation's foremost experts on the native foodways of the Southwest.

Frank, a college professor, historian and culinary instructor in Santa Fe, N.M., has been studying Southwest Indian food traditions since the 1980s. Her book Food of the Southwest Indian Nations (Ten Speed Press, 2002) won a James Beard Award. She dispels the myth that American Indians were the original locavores, eating only what they could grow and raise in immediate surroundings.

For instance, she says, the remnants of wild rice, abalone and cacao beans (chocolate) were found in Chaco Canyon, west of Santa Fe, indicating that people walked there 1,000 years ago.

"That means this area was a trade hub," she says. None of those foods are native to that area of the country.

Frank will lecture on the history of Southwest Indian cuisine and join chef Walter Whitehouse in preparing food for tasting at two programs at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg on Feb. 20 and 22. The Feb. 22 event is for children. The programs are offered by the museum in conjunction with its exhibit, "New Mexico and the Arts of Enchantment Featuring the Raymond James Financial Collection," which runs through May 11.

Frank, who is a descendent of the Kiowa Indians, and Whitehouse, who is a Navajo, will prepare blue corn cob bread with pinion chili beans and Navajo lamb stew along with sunflower cakes with peach honey sauce for the Feb. 20 program. The children will sample Three Sisters Tacos, made of corns, bean and squash, and Tesuque pumpkin cookies.

In a phone interview from Santa Fe, Frank says she thinks that interest in native cuisine has grown in recent years.

"People are curious," she says. "When we look at diversity in American cuisine, people are open to the new information about native food, wondering what it is and how it influenced us."

Frank notes that some people might think of the American Indian diet as unhealthy because of the traditional fry bread and Indian tacos, which rely heavily on lard. That, and other ingredients, she explains, were provided to the reservations by the federal government as subsidies.

"I call those 'sometimes' foods, like ice cream," she said. "And we know we can't eat heavy fat foods everyday. What we see now in native communities is a letting go of this food representing a difficult time."

Frank says that many American Indians are returning to their ancestral foods as a way to trace their history.

In her museum program, Frank will also talk about how native cuisine influenced the world. For instance, Italian explorers brought tomato seeds back to Italy.

"Tomatoes are woven into fabric of their (Italian) culture. You can't imagine Italian food without tomato; but that came from Americas," she says. Likewise, corn, chilies and potatoes.

While Frank is in Pinellas County, she will do a little exploring of her own. She spent many youthful summers in Treasure Island and Gulfport, where her grandmother lived.

"I'll be curious to see how it has changed," she says.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at or (727) 893-8586.

.if you go

UNCHartED: Native American Southwest Cuisine

Cooking demonstration, two-course tasting, lecture, and book signing with Lois Ellen Frank and chef Walter Whitewater, 6-8 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, 255 Beach Drive NE. $35, $20 members. Reservations required byMonday.

A children's Make & Eat event is 11 a.m. to noon Feb. 22 at the museum. $5 per person for ages 5 and older. MFA members free. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

For more information and reservations, go to or call (727) 896-2667, ext. 210.

American Indian cuisine expert to speak at Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg

02/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 6:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Ticket window: Shania Twain, Chicago, George Benson

    Music & Concerts

    Tickets for the following events go on sale this week:

    LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 01:  Singer Shania Twain performs during the debut of her residency show "Shania: Still the One" at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on December 1, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
  2. Plan your weekend Aug. 25-27: Craig Morgan, Wearable Art 13, SNL's Pete Davidson, Rodeo Fest


    Plan your weekend


    Pete Davidson: Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson will headline this year's University of South Florida Round-Up Comedy Show, a back-to-school tradition at USF. Expect to hear about his recent trip to rehab, since he's known for his confessional …

    The 12th annual Wearable art Fashion Show was held at the Dunedin Fine Art Center on Saturday evening, August 27, 2016.
DAVID W DOONAN | Special To The Times
  3. Pasco Events for Aug. 25-31


    25 Friday

    Feeding Pasco's Elderly hosts inaugural Leadership Breakfast: The Pasco County Elderly Nutrition Division/Feeding Pasco's Elderly will host this east Pasco event to mirror the Ambassador's Breakfast fundraising event that has been held the past two years on the county's west side. County …

  4. Local craft beer of the week: Cherry Pastelitos, Coppertail Brewing Co. in Tampa

    Bars & Spirits

    On Saturday, Tampa's Coppertail Brewing Co. will celebrate its third anniversary with a Florida weisse festival, showcasing densely fruited tart wheat beers from more than a dozen Tampa Bay area breweries including, of course, many of its own brews in this summer-friendly style.

    Center: Coppertail Brewing’s Cherry Pastelitos. Flanking it are Coppertail’s BOMP (blood orange, mango, passionfruit), left, and Pinky Swear (pink lemonade-flavored).
  5. 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' opens run at Show Palace Dinner Theatre


    The Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson takes a nostalgic swing through the 1950s and '60s with its production of Smokey Joe's Cafe, which opens Aug. 26. The local offering of the longest-running rock 'n' roll revue in Broadway history features the legendary pop tunes of hit makers Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber. …

    A local production of the 1950s and '60s musical revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe" opens Aug. 26 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson.