Owamni Wins Best New Restaurant at the James Beard Awards

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It was quite the night for Minnesota at the 2022 James Beard Awards, with Indigenous restaurant Owamni winning the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. The Forager Chef Alan Bergo also brought home an award for his docu-series Field Forest Feast.

For Owamni, the groundbreaking restaurant that opened last year on the banks of the Mississippi River (or Wakpa Tanka as the Dakota people say) in Minneapolis, the moment is historic.

Co-owners Dana Thompson and chef Sean Sherman said in their acceptance speech that they hope this moment will help pave the way for new Indigenous restaurants around the country. Sherman said he hopes that one day Indigenous restaurants will be in every city. 

“This is so much bigger than us,” Thompson said. “Owamni is something that is more like a community spirit than anything else.”

Owamni was a project 20 years in the making, though we like to say it’s been in the making since the dawn of the Mississippi. Over 75 percent of Owamni’s staff are Indigenous, and the food is made with non-Eurocentric ingredients.

“Our ancestors are here with us tonight and they are with us everyday in that restaurant with the rest of our incredible staff,” Thompson said.

Owamni has become a staple to the Minneapolis food scene. The space, part of the city’s ambitious Water Works construction project, is for people to come together and uplift Indigenous cuisine.

“We are putting culture on the table and we are putting our stories on the table,” Sherman said. “White supremacy does not like being dismantled, but we can do it together.”

The filmmaker Jesse Roesler and Forager Chef Alan Bergo also won for their docu-series Field Forest Feast. The series shows how viewers can find, harvest, and cook America’s wild food ingredients. 

“It was more than a show. It was an invitation to go outside and appreciate where you live,” Alan Bergo wrote in a post on Instagram after winning the award.

The series was created with a team of only three people—Bergo, Roesler, and editor Sam Kaiser. The decision to create the docu-series was inspired by an accumulation of pandemic free time, when things simultaneously slowed down in both the film and restaurant industries in the early days of April 2020.

“I reached out to Alan and said, ‘While we both have this downtime, let’s make something beautiful and useful to help people get outside and connect with nature in a more meaningful and delicious way.” said Roessler. “It’s been very gratifying to see this little show take on a life of its own and help people do just that.” The show is available to watch on Tastemade.

Sherman, Jorge Guzmán (Petite León), and Yia Vang (Union Hmong Kitchen), were also finalists for the Best Chef in the Midwest award, which went to Dane Baldwin of Milwaukee. 

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