With its Cedar Planked Fire-Roasted Salmon and Buffalo Chili on Fry Bread, the National Museum of the American Indian has been called “the tastiest place to grab a meal on the Mall.” We talk with Chef Richard Hetzler about the diverse culinary traditions of native peoples in the Americas.


  • Richard Hetzler Executive Chef, Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe, National Museum of the American Indian; author, The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook (Smithsonian Institution)


  • 12:28:28

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIOoh, the octopus salad is good. With its curvy limestone exterior, the National Museum of the American Indian is reminiscent of a wind-sculpted rock formation in the southwestern desert. But on the inside, the malls' newest museum is an oasis from the food desert that many people consider the National Mall to be. Dedicated to the life and culture of Native Americans, the museum is the first Smithsonian to extend its educational mission into its cafe. Maybe you'd like to try a juniper cured salmon sandwich or grilled bison strip with wild mushrooms. For dessert, how about some dried cherry mesquite cookies? The cafe's innovative menu has made it a destination restaurant in its own right, popular with both tourist and locals. Today on Food Wednesday, the challenges of adapting Native American cuisine for the modern palate. Joining us in studio is Richard Hetzler, executive chef at Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall. He is the author of "The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook." Richard Hetzler, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:29:35

    MR. RICHARD HETZLERThank you. Thanks for having me.

  • 12:29:37

    NNAMDIMost museum cafes have the standard lunch fare, burgers, fries, sandwiches, salads. How did the Smithsonian decide to make the Mitsitam Cafe at the American Indian Museum an extension of the museum's theme?

  • 12:29:49

    HETZLERI think going with the culture of Native Americans and how a lot of their culture is derived around food and how food was life to them, so they wanted to be able to represent that in the cafe in what we do every day.

  • 12:30:01

    NNAMDIWhat does Mitsitam mean?

  • 12:30:02

    HETZLERIt means, let's eat.

  • 12:30:04

    NNAMDIOh, good. Well, excuse me for a second here (laugh) while I continue with my salad. Talk about the challenge of keeping this menu authentic, but also making dishes that contemporary museum visitors will enjoy.

  • 12:30:16

    HETZLERYeah. And that was the challenge from the very beginning with this, is how do we, you know, do we make authentic Native American food? And we realized real quickly early on is that it was -- we would not be able to make it authentic. There's not enough research and not enough literature to really be able to do it. The little bit of stuff that we could find, the everyday consumer wouldn't be able to -- or they wouldn't enjoy it. And we would, you know, it just wouldn't be sustainable. So what we decided we wanted to do was figure out how we can adapt Native American foods to the everyday palate. And I think we've done a, you know, like a blending of traditional Native American foods to what people are used to as food today.

  • 12:30:53

    NNAMDILet's see which members of our listening audience have sampled your fare. Have you eaten at the American Indian Museum Cafe? What's your favorite dish there? You can call us at 800-433-8850. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or e-mail kojo@wamu.org. Our guest is Richard Hetzler. He is executive chef at the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian and the author of "The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook." Cornbread is an example of a food you adapted from its original form to make it work in the cafe. How do you do that?

  • 12:31:31

    HETZLERBasically, you know, if you think of cornbread when, you know, traditional Native Americans, they needed something that they could pack and move with them. So it's very dense and dry. So basically, you know, what most people think of cornbread is a lighter area or more fluffy cornbread. We kind of adapted that for using it. We do a yellow cornbread and a blue cornbread. The blue cornbread, we try to do more of a traditional style. It's a little bit drier. It's not as sweet so you can really kind of still get those flavors and taste that blue corn meal that's in it versus the yellow.

  • 12:31:59

    NNAMDIAuthentic Native American cornbread tended to be pretty dry and dense, is it not? Wouldn't work in this situation.

  • 12:32:06

    HETZLERThat's correct. I mean, literally, you'd almost -- you'd have to basically drink water or have something to drink with it like a real dry cake or something along that line.

  • 12:32:14

    NNAMDIAmerican Indians are quite often lactose intolerant. Does that mean you don't use any dairy at the cafe at all?

  • 12:32:20

    HETZLERWe do, and that kind of goes back to the beginning. Part of our focus when we went, we did five focus groups with the Native American from the different regions of food that we represent. The first one, we used very little butter and cream because of the lactose intolerant with most Native Americans. And we -- the museum came back to us and said, you know, while we appreciate it, it's not an overall theme. We understand that we're going to a broader audience, so please use butter, cream, whatever you need to in it. But we use very little in the sense of what a normal restaurant would use.

  • 12:32:50

    NNAMDIHere's a question not for you, Richard Hetzler, but for members of our listening audience. What foods do Native Americans refer to as the three sisters? If you know the answer, call 800-433-8850. Send us an e-mail to kojo@wamu.org. Go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. What foods do Native Americans refer to as the three sisters? If you know the answer, let us know and we'll tell you if you are correct. And I haven't decided yet whether there'll be any prizes involved. (laugh) Richard Hetzler, talk about what are some of the foods on the menu whose success has surprised you?

  • 12:33:31

    HETZLERWell, I think, you know, that we actually -- because we change our menu four times a year, and in changing, we try to throw some different stuff out there that would kind of would throw people for a little bit of a loop, just to be able to give them a little education. You know, frog legs is a big one. We sell a lot of frog legs when we have those on the menu. We sell probably about -- almost about a hundred pounds a week of frog legs when we have them on the menu. We do different style, whether we do braised or fried frog legs, similar things like that. So there -- that's one of the most popular items that's kind of really surprised you. We put on the menu figuring this thing's going to -- we're gonna have to take this off in a week, because nobody is gonna eat it. And they loved it.

  • 12:34:06

    NNAMDIHow about the whole shad?

  • 12:34:08

    HETZLERYes. The shad was another big one. You know, I think, you -- most people think of sardine and eating it. But they see a whole fish --a small fish, sitting there on the plate that you get the whole thing with the head and all on it. And it's a -- we sold a tremendous amount of that as well. So it worked out real well for us.

  • 12:34:23

    NNAMDISpeaking of changing the menu, here is Stephanie in Washington, D.C. Stephanie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:34:29

    STEPHANIEThank you, Kojo. Great show. And I do love the restaurant at the American Indian Museum. My favorite thing on the menu was the lobster roll. And the last time I was there, it was not on the menu. Have you taken that off or is it just a seasonal change?

  • 12:34:45

    HETZLERIt's a seasonal change, but it's actually back on the menu now.

  • 12:34:48

    STEPHANIEOh, good.

  • 12:34:49

    HETZLERSo we put it back on for the winter menu, so...

  • 12:34:51

    STEPHANIEOkay. Then I'll definitely look for it the next time I'm there. Thank you.

  • 12:34:54

    HETZLERBeautiful. Thank you.

  • 12:34:56

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Stephanie. We moved on to Dina in Great Falls, Va. Dina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:35:05

    DINAHi. I love that cafe. And the three sisters are the corn, squash and -- what's -- wait in a minute -- corn, squash and beans. But my comment was that the tamales at the Mitsitam Cafe are fabulous.

  • 12:35:27

    NNAMDIAnswer the question again. What are the three sisters?

  • 12:35:31

    DINAAre corn, squash and beans.

  • 12:35:34

    NNAMDIDarn, she got it right. (laugh) The first caller who called in got it absolutely right. That's who -- those are the foods that Native Americans referred to as the three sisters. You have it absolutely correct, Dina. Thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:35:46

    DINAThank you.

  • 12:35:47

    NNAMDIYou, too, can call us...

  • 12:35:48

    HETZLERThank you.

  • 12:35:48

    NNAMDI...800-433-8850, to join our conversation with Richard Hetzler, executive chef at the Mitsitam Native Foods Café in the National Museum of the American Indian. Are there indigenous foods, Richard, that you decided not to use because you didn't think the public was quite ready for them?

  • 12:36:07

    HETZLERYeah there -- the biggest one that's stands out is a quwi. It's a South American delicacy that, you know, they eat a lot. And that are just -- the museum actually put a stop to this one, and I can understand. It's actually guinea pig. And I can tell you, I've eaten it. It's excellent meat. It's really, really good. But it was of those things that we just thought the public wasn't necessarily ready to enjoy when they came in the cafe.

  • 12:36:32

    NNAMDIWell, if you've ever traveled to South America, you'd know the South American public is more than ready for it... (laugh)

  • 12:36:36

    HETZLEROh, yeah. (laugh)

  • 12:36:37

    NNAMDI...because you'll find it there. Back to the telephones, here -- oh, okay, Peter. Peter, you're late, but go ahead.

  • 12:36:46

    PETEROh. Well, I apologize, guys...

  • 12:36:47

    NNAMDI(laugh) That's all right.

  • 12:36:47

    NNAMDI...Kojo, I love the show.

  • 12:36:49

    NNAMDIGo ahead.

  • 12:36:49

    PETERSomebody beat me to the answer already, but I did wanna point out with the squash, corn and beans as -- we grow an organic plot every year. And in the summer, of course, they all grow together. So when you grow the corn in, you put the beans under it, they grow up the corn stalk, so then you have the squash going throughout. So they, actually, naturally work together. I think that's a good emphasis on how efficient that the Native Americans were with their gardening.

  • 12:37:15

    HETZLERIt's true.

  • 12:37:16

    NNAMDIPeter, thank you so much for your call. Richard, you are a graduate of the Baltimore International Culinary Academy. You've worked in several restaurants before becoming executive chef of the American Indian Museum. But you, yourself, are not Native American. How have you developed your expertise in Native American cooking?

  • 12:37:34

    HETZLERI think, you know, what I realized real quickly as I started to learn more about Native American cooking is -- what we realized, you know, most in my background being French American classic kind of cooking is a lot of the food that we look at every day is -- has its history and culture in Native American foods. So it's kind of taking the base of what I've learned from, you know, the classic cooking and classic culinary techniques that you learned. And then readapting them to Native American ways, figuring out, you know, how would they have cooked fish? How would they have, you know, smoke salmon or cook the piece of chicken in the ground using, you know, hot coals and things of that nature.

  • 12:38:14

    NNAMDIBack to the telephones, here is Kim in Falls Church, Va. Kim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:38:21

    KIMHi, Kojo. Well, I just wanted to say I work as a contractor with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. And every year, we try to do the same kind of things by helping people to experience the different culture through food. And I think it's just so important. I think it's such a natural, easy way, accessible way for people to really learn about and appreciate a culture better through food, because it's like, you know, it's a common denominator that we all can enjoy. So I just -- I think, it's great that they did that. I wish more of the Smithsonian museums or other museums would look at that as way to kind of show people about the different culture through food.

  • 12:39:02

    NNAMDIAnd, Richard Hetzler, that's the whole point, isn't it?

  • 12:39:04

    HETZLERYeah, exactly. We're basically a living exhibit within the museum.

  • 12:39:08

    NNAMDIYou buy some of the ingredients you use at the cafe from Native American tribes. Talk about where you get the buffalo and the salmon that you use.

  • 12:39:16

    HETZLERBuffalo comes from -- it's a co-op of 57 different native tribes. It's the Intertribal Bison Cooperative. Basically, they are located in the Southwest. And we purchase -- depending on where they're harvesting buffalo from. It could be anywhere from New Mexico on up, towards California, in and around that. So depending on what tribes have the largest herd that we harvest from. We purchase right now, about 250,000 pounds of buffalo a year. And we're using about eight to nine different cuts of buffalo, so between ground and a buffalo shank and a bunch of other items of that nature.

  • 12:39:48

    NNAMDIHow about the salmon?

  • 12:39:49

    HETZLERSalmon comes from the Quinault Tribe in Washington State. We fly it in usually three to four times a week, so depending on what's ones are running, stillheads, cohos, you know, bluebacks and different things of that nature.

  • 12:40:01

    NNAMDIOn to Toni. Toni is in Silver Spring, Md. Toni, you're in the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:40:07

    TONIGood afternoon, gentlemen.

  • 12:40:08

    NNAMDIGood afternoon.

  • 12:40:09

    HETZLERGood afternoon.

  • 12:40:09

    TONII have a question for -- hi, there. I have a question for your guest. My daughter and I are working on this project, sort of identifying comfort foods from different cultures. And I was wondering if your guest could identify a particular dish or dishes that would qualify as Native American comfort food.

  • 12:40:30

    HETZLERI think looking at, you know, in Central America, the tamale. You look at pupusas, you know, things of that nature. Those are gonna probably be the biggest comfort food. If you're looking Northwest, I would think it's not necessarily a true food, but pemmican was something that was used a lot between Native Americans, which was, you know, basically dried meat kind of mix with dried berries and stuff like that. That would have been something that most native tribes would have known about or had a version of.

  • 12:40:59

    NNAMDIToni, thank you very much.

  • 12:41:00


  • 12:41:01

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call.

  • 12:41:02

    TONIThank you.

  • 12:41:02

    NNAMDIWe're about to take a short...

  • 12:41:03

    TONIYou're welcome. Thank you.

  • 12:41:04

    NNAMDIWe're about to take a short break. I am about to bite into a burger. What kind of burger is it?

  • 12:41:08

    HETZLERIt's a buffalo duck burger.

  • 12:41:10

    NNAMDIA buffalo duck burger.

  • 12:41:12

    HETZLERSo basically what we do is we take the brisket, we house grind that, and we take whole ducks that we break down and grind the fat into them. So this way you get kind of like a -- like you would get with the fat with the ground beef, but you get the duck fat into it. It's got a roasted pepper dijonnaise on there, smoked tomatoes and some caramelized onions.

  • 12:41:28

    NNAMDII usually don't eat red meat, but I take a vacation from my diet when I go on vacation. I take a vacation from my diet when I do this show. I take a vacation from my diet when I visit anybody's home. So I'm on a lot of vacation from my diet...

  • 12:41:39

    HETZLER(laugh) It sounds like it.

  • 12:41:41

    NNAMDI...one coming right up. We'll be taking a short break. When we come back, more of your calls and questions at 800-433-8850. We're talking with Richard Hetzler, executive chef at the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe and the National Museum of the American Indian and author of the book "The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:43:42

    NNAMDIThe buffalo duck burger is scrumptillious. Richard Hetzler, thank you very much.

  • 12:43:47

    HETZLERThank you.

  • 12:43:48

    NNAMDIRichard Hetzler is executive chef at the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe and the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall. He's author of the book "The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook." It's food Wednesday here. We're talking Native American cooking. The Mitsitam Cafe serves indigenous foods from five native culture areas in the North and in South America. What are those areas and how were they chosen?

  • 12:44:11

    HETZLERBasically, it's the Western Hemisphere food, so we represent food from South America, all of North America and then Central America. The museum had to work prior to us coming onto set the five regions, basically to give emphasis to not just Native Americans in North America, but Native Americans in general, so Native Americans from South America, Native Americans from Central America and their contribution to food and what we know as food today.

  • 12:44:38

    NNAMDIBack to the telephones. We start with Matt in Silver Spring. Matt, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:44:44

    MATTHi. How are you?

  • 12:44:45

    NNAMDII'm well.

  • 12:44:46

    MATTYes. I actually really wanted to call because we very surprisingly found the cafe. We were so happy that it was so interesting. But most of all, that there were gluten-free options and vegetarian options, and very well labeled that way. And so I really wanted to compliment the chef for keeping that in mind in addition to all the other interesting flavors and culture.

  • 12:45:09

    NNAMDIIs that indeed something that you keep in mind?

  • 12:45:11

    HETZLERWe do. You know, vegetarian options are always a big concern in any restaurants you go to because it's hard to find in most restaurants. They may be doing one or two things here or there, but we really put the emphasis to have, you know, at least three to four different entrees, and then the majority of our side items are vegetarian. And the great thing about the vegetarian diet is a lot of it was gluten-free, you know? There was a lot of items -- they didn't have a lot of wheat and a lot of flour that were used until after, you know, they were pushed to the reservation. So we're very fortunate to be able to use a lot of those locally grown vegetables and those root vegetables. And with the seasonality of our menu, it works out real well.

  • 12:45:47

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Matt. Corn, beans, chilis, tomatoes were the foundation of most Aztec and Mayan meals. How did they use these staples in their cooking?

  • 12:45:57

    HETZLEREveryday cooking. I mean, corns and bean, you know, basically Native Americans were the first to kind of cultivate corn to as to what we know corn today, basically starting it from a grass or for -- from a small grain to what we know as corn. Beans, of course, because of the protein aspects and things like that. And then chilis. I mean, you look at chilis in, you know, Aztec cooking, moles and the different sauces and the flavors and stuff that they put into it. They're really -- you know, the aspect of some of that were hot, some that had no heat to them and stuff like that to different flavor profiles.

  • 12:46:31

    NNAMDIAztec farmers cultivated at least 12 varieties of beans, and beans are still a mainstay in the Southern Mesoamerica, Northern South America. What have you done with beans at the Mitsitam Cafe?

  • 12:46:44

    HETZLERI think just about anything you can think of, from, you know, from forming them into like a mash or doing refried beans to incorporating them into three sisters. And the great thing is to be able to incorporate a lot of these heirloom beans that most people have never seen -- scarlet runner beans, Peruvian lima beans, things of that nature that, you know, people don't necessarily get to see a lot of, the Anasazis and stuff that aren't available in the everyday grocery store.

  • 12:47:09

    NNAMDIDo a lot of people come to the cafe without looking around the museum at all? (laugh)

  • 12:47:13

    HETZLERYeah. We -- we've been, you know, fortunate in becoming a destination restaurant to where we -- we do have people that come for lunch, you know. Most of the museums definitely have the lulls during the non-peak times where -- that are -- where the tourists aren't in town. We've been very fortunate that we stay very steady year-round because of the...

  • 12:47:32

    NNAMDII suspect there's more than good fortune involved in that. Here's Cindy in University Park, Md. Cindy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:47:39

    CINDYHi. I'm from Arizona, and so I grew up with Navajo tacos and fry bread and it was really good. And I live in University Park, Md., now, so I hosted 13 Navajos who came for the first time to see Washington, D.C., and I...

  • 12:47:54


  • 12:47:54

    CINDY...insisted that we go to the museum. And I wanted them to try out the cafeteria, that restaurant that you have because I love your food. But most of the teams walked in there, and these Navajos said, no way. We want hamburgers. So I sent them next door to the Air and Space, and then a few of us stayed in your restaurant. And they did get some Navajo tacos. But I would say that your Navajo tacos are wonderful, but the fry bread is very inaccurate. It's not the way they do it on the reservation. And I don't know if you used yeast in the bread. They don't use yeast. I have not been able to replicate that. I use a yeast bread when I make Navajo tacos. But I would say contact some people at Cameron Trading Post in -- near Kanab, Utah. They have the best Navajo taco fry bread I've ever tasted.

  • 12:48:44

    HETZLERThank you very much.

  • 12:48:44

    NNAMDIThe listeners to this broadcast, always good with the advice for you. Thank you very much for your call, Sandy. We got an -- Cindy. We got an e-mail from Sandy, who said, "I enjoy the restaurant very much. But I found it expensive even for museum cafes. Can your guest explain how the pricing is set and why it needs to be so expensive? For tourists walking around the mall with kids, not office employees having a nice lunch out, it would be good if there were less expensive options."

  • 12:49:11

    HETZLERAnd we get that a lot. And I think the biggest thing that we try to stress to people is, one, that, you know, with the Smithsonian, you know, a lot of the funds that we make are funding a lot of the programs for the Smithsonian. Smithsonian is a nonprofit organization, so they don't charge to get into the museum. So they have to make that money up in other avenues, and the restaurant is one of those ways.

  • 12:49:33

    HETZLERThe other thing that I think we try to stress to people is, you know, about the food, when we talk about, you know, where we're sourcing salmon from. It's wild salmon. It's coming, you know, straight line-caught wild -- you know, from the rivers. And buffalo. That's range buffalo. That's not, you know, farm-raised buffalo that -- you know, we could save, you know, maybe a dollar or so here or there, you know. The mission of what we're trying to do is really give people true native foods and use a lot of the local ingredients. And, unfortunately, there's a cost behind some of that, you know. That's kind of where it comes from.

  • 12:50:07

    NNAMDICindy, thank you very much for your call. For early Mesoamericans, chilis were an essential part of every meal. How did they use chilis in their cooking, and how do you use them at the museum today?

  • 12:50:18

    HETZLERThey -- I think they -- you know, they incorporated them into a lot of food. A lot of the chilis that they were to use would have been dried. So as they were cooking maybe beans, corn soup, chilis and stuff would have got into it. We kind of do it the same way. So when we make refried beans or we're doing any kind of stews or anything that are from those regions, we're adding in those different chilis to get different flavors. While they were using, you know, chipotle, smoked jalapeno, we're using a, you know, a poblano or different chilis like that to get those different flavors out of those different heat profiles.

  • 12:50:49

    NNAMDIHere's Bill in Rippon, W. Va. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:50:55

    BILLThank you, Kojo, for having Chef Richard on your show today. I really enjoyed listening to it, and I look forward to visiting the cafe and reading your cookbook. I've got a Native American cuisine question for you. I've always read that beaver tail was considered a true delicacy -- a caviar, if you will -- among Native Americans. And I've twice tried to prepare it when I've been given a beaver tail, but I've never been able to transfer it into anything that was even close to palatable. Do you have any ideas?

  • 12:51:28

    HETZLERI would think -- never actually cooking beaver tail -- that it's probably a very firm meat, flesh, so I think it would be something that you'd have to slow-cook for a long time to really break that meat down to where you can actually probably make it palatable. I would suggest maybe just a quick sear on it and then getting, like, whether some chicken stock or beef stock from the grocery store, using that in there and basically just kind of covering it and putting it in the oven with some onions and stuff like that for probably a good couple of hours, I would imagine. I've never actually had a chance to cook it or taste it, but I would bet that would probably be that'd do the trick.

  • 12:52:06

    BILLThat sounds great. I just tried to put it on the grill with a little bit of marinade, and it tasted like eating my Goodyear.

  • 12:52:12

    HETZLER(laugh) Yeah. I bet it is. There's types of meats you really got to cook slow and break those fibrous pieces down.

  • 12:52:19

    NNAMDIBill, thank you very much for your call. Good luck next time with your beaver's tail. Today's Taco Bell could perhaps trace its heritage to the Aztec markets of the 1500s, where food sellers offered tortillas with beans, chilis and corn, meats and the choice of sauces. How have you adapted tacos for the museum menu?

  • 12:52:40

    HETZLERWell, basically, what we do is we do moles, so -- and moles were the original kind of barbecues. They're slow cooking of meats with, you know, moles, in a traditional sense, were daylong processes, where it was slow cooking down with the chilis, with the onions to make a paste and then adding that paste back into it and then slow cooking your meat to pull it apart.

  • 12:53:01

    HETZLERWhat we do now is we do moles. Moles are on our menu every day. We do hard and soft tacos with them. And we change our moles up seasonally. So we do, for example, right now, we're doing a beef adobo. Adobo is kind of like what you think about when you got chipotle peppers in the can, like that tomatoey kind of spicy sauce that's with it. And then we're doing an almond and chili mole right now. So it's taking fresh almonds, cooking them down with the chili peppers and the different spices and chocolate and then pureeing those into like a barbecue sauce, if you will, and then mixing it in with the slow-cooked chicken.

  • 12:53:33

    NNAMDIRichard Hetzler is executive chef at the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian. He's also the author of the book "The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook." Here is Randy in Woodley Park. Randy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:53:48

    RANDYYeah. I've been a volunteer at the Folklife Festival. And a couple years ago, I worked with some Native Americans from California who made an acorn soup in a basket. They dropped hot stones in it. And I tasted it, the soup had a caramelized flavor. I think the acorns we're like caramelizing on the stone, and it wound up tasting a little bit like a hazelnut soup. Have you ever thought about doing anything like that?

  • 12:54:15

    NNAMDIHere's this website post we got from Ann, Randy, before Richard responds. "I always heard that American Indians boil liquids by dropping hot rocks into mud-lined baskets or pottery vessels, but I don't think that could work. Soon the container would be full of rocks. Without metal pots, was there any way liquids could be boiled?" But it's your turn, Richard Hetzler.

  • 12:54:33

    RANDYThey lifted the rocks out with kind of a -- some sticks that were made into...

  • 12:54:38


  • 12:54:39

    RANDY...like hooks. They would pull the rocks out. And you never let the rock touch the basket or it would burn the basket.

  • 12:54:47

    HETZLERRight. It was -- they -- it shows the ingenuity of the Native Americans, how they could take something like that. And I've seen it done before. It's amazing. It's hard for us in the restaurant because of what we do on an everyday basis and the amount of people we serve. But we do try to represent a lot of Native American cooking. If you look at -- if you've been there or for the folks that have, we do our kited salmon that we cook actually over the fire pit. So we take the salmon and we cook it in the -- represented in a way that Native Americans would have cooked the kited salmons in the Northwest. We do a lot of different demos as well outside during different festivals and stuff. It hasn't been one that we've ever done, but it definitely would be something I like to try.

  • 12:55:30

    RANDYI think if you put hot irons instead of hot stones into the pot of the acorns, it would produce that kind of caramelized flavor. And you have to then scrape -- you would scrape that off of the irons and it kind of produces a caramelized flavor. It's not just simply boiled mush.

  • 12:55:45

    HETZLERRight, right, right.

  • 12:55:47

    NNAMDIHey, Randy, thank you very much. You've obviously given this some thought. Edible roots are a sacred food for many of the communities along the North Pacific Coast. The cover of your cookbook has a picture of a fiddlehead fern salad.

  • 12:56:00

    HETZLERYes. And fiddlehead ferns are something that we feature every season when they're in. Fiddlehead ferns, the unique thing about the fiddlehead is they usually only grow for about three months during the springtime. They're very expensive. Fiddlehead ferns usually cost about $12 a pound. So it's about as much as it would cost you to do steak or something even at home, let alone at a restaurant, but it's something that we really try to feature every year in some fashion. Salad usually works the best for it just because we can supplement it with the other items to keep the cost down. But really something to be able to feature and let people see and taste something that most people never heard of, let alone seen.

  • 12:56:35

    NNAMDII learned from your cookbook that chocolate dates back to the Olmec, Maya and Aztec people. We had a caller who couldn't stay on the line who wanted to talk about the special chocolate around Valentine's Day and whether you're gonna have it this year.

  • 12:56:50

    HETZLERYeah. We do a chocolate festival every year. You know, of course, we talk a lot with Mexican hot chocolate where they -- we would use the Mexican chocolates. And it's more of an unrefined chocolate. It has cinnamon, chili spices and, you know, more of the unprocessed sugars in it. So it's a lot granular than what we would think of is like a normal Hershey's chocolate. But we'll definitely be doing a lot this year with the chocolate festival.

  • 12:57:10

    NNAMDIWhat prompted the idea of doing this "Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook"? Do a lot of people ask for recipes after they eat at the museum?

  • 12:57:18

    HETZLERWe do. We would -- on average, we probably get about 40 to 50 requests probably every week to every other week. And so it just was natural that, you know, hey, you know what, this is such a popular thing. Why don't we put a cookbook together?

  • 12:57:31

    NNAMDIAre you surprised by how popular the cafe has become?

  • 12:57:34

    HETZLERVery surprised. I think, you know, a lot of us on the, you know, within my company and within the museum and opening team, never could have imagined the popularity that we'd have and the success we'd have with the cafe now.

  • 12:57:46

    NNAMDIRichard Hetzler is executive chef at the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall. He is the author of "The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook." Richard, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you.

  • 12:57:59

    HETZLERThank you very much. Thanks for having me.

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