Sunday, July 7, 2019

Native foods celebrated in Tastes & Treasures II

Chef Ryan gave the Historical League wonderful indigenous recipes for Tastes & Treasures II. He promotes more of these Arizona-grown grains, beans and more in this dinner concept. Native foods are so important. Kudos to Chef Ryan from Kai at Wild Horse Pass.

'Rarest ingredients in the world': Chef works with Native farm for indigenous dinner

Chef Ryan Swanson from Kai Restaurant collaborates with Ramona Farms on a dinner service featuring a menu full of ingredients from Gila River. Video courtesy of Andrew Gooi, Arizona Republic
Kai's Chef Ryan Swanson is ending the season with something completely new: A dinner featuring indigenous ingredients. 
As a way to celebrate the holiday and Kai Restaurant's last night of service before their annual summer closure, Swanson is collaborating with the Gila River Community's Ramona Farms for a fine dining experience July 5, featuring a menu of products and ingredients from their farm.
Ramona Farms is a family-owned and operated business near Sacaton, Arizona, on the Gila River Indian Community that specializes in traditional indigenous foods.
"I wanted to do something to celebrate their farm and have fun," Swanson said in a phone interview with The Arizona Republic. "End the season on a high note." 
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Swanson has been working with ingredients from Ramona Farms for 10 years, but this specific dinner is a first.
"This will be the first collaboration with an indigenous farmer," Swanson said. "It's going to be an evening of just learning about the beautiful culture, the farm and the indigenous ingredients."
Swanson said he wanted to showcase the families' life work at Ramona Farms alongside his own.
"The menu is made specifically for Ramona Farms," he said. "We're going to be using almost everything that they got, in some fashion."
Ramona Farms was started in the early '70s by Ramona and Terry Button on a family plot of land. Ramona said she is excited to see what Kai plans on doing with their products. 
Velvet Button, Ramona and Terry's daughter, says Swanson has been enthusiastic about educating himself and his staff about indigenous food growing on their farm, spending hours on the farm harvesting and learning about each ingredient's history and cultural importance.
"Kai has been using and sharing our food and our food story for several years," Velvet Button said. "We've been tasting and sharing recipes over the last few years. Our nutrient-dense desert foods have really unique flavor profiles and incorporating them into a menu that is using all of our products is really exciting."
Some of the crops Swanson will be using from Ramona Farms includes tepary beans, ga’ivsa, pinole, pima wheat berries, black-eyed peas and more.
Swanson said one of his favorite ingredients in his whole career is ga’ivsa, which is mesquite roasted and cracked corn that is ground corse. 
"Their ingredients will be the heart of the dish, but we're going to build around it," Swanson said. "Showcase not only the farm, but the community that provides for it."
The menu will also highlight tepary beans, which are drought tolerant and native to the Southwest. Ramona Farms grows three different types of tepary beans, Velvet said. She is looking forward to seeing how Swanson is going to showcase these beans.
"We have a white tepary bean, which is buttery and sweet.  We have a brown tepary bean which is nutty and earth. The black bean is almost chocolatey, very rich and bold," Velvet explained.
The ingredients are rare, Swanson said, which will contribute to the only-in-Arizona feel of the meal.
"That dinner they will be having on Friday night, no one else will be eating," he added. "You can only use these ingredients in this part of the world."
Kai Restaurant at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass is located at 5594 West Wild Horse Pass Blvd. The dinner service will take place the same night the resort will have their fireworks display, so guests will get to see the fireworks from the restaurant patio, said Samantha Fink, public relations and marketing director for Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass. 
Dinner service starts at 6 p.m. on July 5 and fireworks begin at 9 p.m. The cost is $140 per guest with an optional wine pairing for an additional $90. For reservations or for more information, guests can call the restaurant at (602) 385-5777.

Reporter Shondiin Silversmith covers indigenous people and communities in Arizona. Reach her at and follow her Twitter @DiinSilversmith.