National American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month
We’re celebrating our diversity and the colleagues who add unique perspectives and experiences to our rich culture. In honor of National American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month, we are proud to introduce one of our amazing colleagues, Conrad R Olin, Chef Manager and Alaska Native.
Conrad Olin, Koyokon Athabaskan Indian, is from the interior of Alaska, a village called Galena, Louden Tribe, located on the Yukon river. The Athabaskan people of the interior of Alaska are comprised of 11 distinct Bands of Indians. Our traditional subsistence foods include Salmon, Moose, Bear and lots of small game including game birds, porcupine, beaver, muskrat and others. While a lot of the bands can communicate with each other for the most part, there are a lot of distinct dialects. The Navajo and Apache have language roots derived from the Athabaskan language, as the peopling of the Americas started during the existence of the land bridge from Asia, through Alaska and into Canada and the lower 48 states.
Q: What is unique to your tribe’s customs and approach to food?
We live off the land, we never take more than we need, but have to store lots of food due to the harsh weather climate to ensure we get through the long winters. Our people have been processing food for as long as we have been on this green earth. We smoke, salt, cure, freeze and dry just about all our game meats and fish, berries, wild vegetables.
Q: How does your heritage influence your culinary influence at NEXDINE?
My mother taught me to cook at an early age. Using a lot of our subsistence foods which are traditionally prepared, are typically very plain. Traditionally, for example, our soups would be the protein,(moose, preferably with the bone for flavor and marrow) and maybe some onion, celery if available and perhaps a starch (rice, pasta or potatoes, if available). Typically, a strong meat broth. With the influence of the western world and the introduction of non-traditional foods, we have steadily and readily incorporated these foods into our culture. Having been raised in a village of 400 people and the increased costs of goods into the interior of Alaska, we used a lot of dried goods or foods that didn’t cost a lot due to the high cost of importing goods into small remote villages. For example, We used powdered milk for most of my childhood. Canned milk was a luxury and fresh milk was about unheard of. A lot of our mothers made homemade everything, including bread and clothes. I have incorporated the ability to “make due” with the food items I have on hand to make great, wholesome nourishing meals. My mom was a chef before the term became chic. She was my greatest influence in my cooking and I still use all the recipes and techniques in my daily professional life, of course, incorporating all the flavorful ingredients, seasonings, herbs and spices we all have in our pantry and our customers have come to expect.