Food Revolution

Making Modern Indigenous Food: A Conversation with Kim Tilsen-Brave Heart

Food Revolution
Making Modern Indigenous Food: A Conversation with Kim Tilsen-Brave Heart

Matte chats with Kimberly Tilsen-Brave Heart, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the owner of Painted Skye Management and owner and Head Chef at Etiquette Catering Co. in Rapid City, SD. Kim is an entrepreneurship and economic development specialist, facilitator, public speaker, trainer, entertainment manager, and chef. In this episode they talk about food as medicine, how to change your mindset around cooking, and indigenous modern cuisine. 

Complete transcript available here.

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Intro Han Mitakuyapi, and welcome to Food Revolution, brought to you by the Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative. Every other week, we'll be bringing you stories of food sovereignty from community members and tribal food producers working to build a more just, equitable, and regenerative food system for our Sicangu Lakota Oyate - the Burnt Thigh Nation. Together, we're building tribal sovereignty through food, and we've set a place at the table just for you. Join us and be part of the Food Revolution.  

Matte 00:00:29 Hi, this is Matte Wilson, back with another episode of the Food Revolution. This week, we're meeting with Kim Tilsen-Brave Heart. Kim, thank you for joining us today. Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you and your background?  

Kim 00:00:44 Sure. Um, good afternoon, everybody. I'm Kimberly Tilson-Brave Heart. I'm an enrolled citizen of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe located on the Pine Ridge Reservation here in South Dakota. I'm the executive chef and owner of Etiquette Catering. We are an artisan indigenous modern kitchen located downtown Rapid City. And I am also an entrepreneurial specialist. I have been helping other people develop their small businesses for the last fifteen years and I am a mother of three.  

Matte 00:01:15 Awesome. I love seeing your posts on Facebook. Your charcuterie boards are so, so pretty. I just love it.  

Kim 00:01:25 Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, they, um, I feel really lucky, um, because the charcuterie board really helped us like transition and pivot during the pandemic, you know, ‘cause we are a very primarily events based business and when COVID hit, it was like this, everyone was calling and canceling their weddings and their reunions and all their big events. And our business went from being extremely profitable to like bleeding out money. And I tried to think of like, what could I do that is still very Etiquette and my aesthetic, but also my quality of food in a way that the average person could have it every day and you know, at least once a week. And so I kind of came up with like the charcuterie to go and it kept our doors open and that's why we're still in business. Otherwise I think we would have not been in business. So, um, yeah, it's good.  

Matte 00:02:29 Awesome. And then what inspired you to start at catering?  

Kim 00:02:35 So I have always loved cooking. I grew up in a single family home. My dad was the primary care provider and, my dad, just for transparency's sake, he is the founder and president of Tanka Bar. Um, but the truth be told [he was a] terrible cook. And so I was pretty young and I would just have him and my brothers and I hated his food. He was like one of these, um, guys who would open the refrigerator and the cupboard and just kind of try to make magic happen without actually really understanding like flavor and spice and texture and all those things. And I'm very much like a texture person and I couldn't do it. I was just like, I'm going to end up starving to death. So I went to my grandmother’s and I asked her, I'm like, you got to teach me everything.  

You need to know how to roast it. Second. I had to make some basic soup and that's really where I started cooking and I fell in love with cooking. And even when we were like in high school and stuff, all of our friends would always tell me I was like the native Martha Stewart, because I would throw these parties and I would make everybody dress up for them. And I would do kind of a charcuterie board even before I knew what a charcuterie board was. And I would do all these like big, you know, food displays and stuff. And yeah, and that's kind of, I just loved it. And some, you know, four years ago, some life altering things happened and it gave us this forced pause of re-kind of, rethinking and recalibrating of what we wanted life to be.  

And I came up with the idea of like, what if we started a catering company, to utilize both my Jewish and my Lakota culture and the food techniques and training that I know, and put some food out there. ‘Cause I'm - in my other business, Painted Sky Management, I do event planning. And one of the issues that was happening is that when I would do these big events and I would fly in clients from all over the country to here, there were not very many catering companies that could accommodate their, allergen diets or allergen sensitive diets or specific needs. It was very much like reheating frozen foods. And, you know, I feel like food is medicine and especially when you're traveling, I feel like it's even more important to have really good quality food because it makes you feel more grounded and more in the place of which you're, you're at, you know, to experience things that are connected to the land and connected to the people there. And that was just kind of like, oh, this perfect hook, of like, I've already done these events. And so now those people who I was doing those events for are already my clients basically for the catering company and when we opened, it was, I mean, we were really fortunate. I feel like our market was really hungry, excuse me, for something unique and different and you know, out, out the gate, we were getting booked pretty quickly and often.  

Matte 00:05:56 Oh, that's amazing. I love the story. I mean, it's, I love also the whole Native Martha Stewart. I think that's hilarious. That’s awesome. 

Kim 00:06:04 (Laughs) I know! They still think about it. They're like, oh, you know, I always, every week I buy myself fresh flowers and I have, since I was about fifteen. And I think that those like, little things that you can do and it's the same thing for our food. And, you know, when you cook, people think it's about like putting the thing together and just like putting it on a plate. And I don't believe that. I believe it's like, you're the one, you know, like I've spoken to the farmer and I am like cooking their meat. I have fed the pig or, you know, or the cow, or I know the buffalo or something that I am cooking. And so I feel like I have this like special connection to that animal and I want to honor them. And I also want to honor the people, the producers who've who have cultivated it.  

And so it's like this whole spiritual kind of process. And even when I'm cooking for myself like today, I mean, I'm local. I had local spinach and local eggs. And I was just like, thinking about it, like a friend of mine, chickens made these eggs, you know, and, but like doing it for yourself, I feel like as a spiritual practice too, is like, we deserve it. And, you know, I make really pretty plates and it's not really for anyone, it’s for me, because it makes me feel special, you know? And I think that like love is in the details. And when you're, when you love cooking, I feel like people really get it. And when they're eating it and consuming it, it feels like medicine to them and love for them. And you know, that nurture that nurturing element to it is really important.  

Matte 00:07:46 Yeah, definitely get that. I view this food the same way. Like, you know, the ceremony from start to finish. And, um, definitely, that's something that we're trying to do here at the Food Sovereignty Initiative is trying to change people's mindset around, um, you know, food is good medicine and also like changing the narrative around what is indigenous food. Do you have any, um, have you had any experience with people, having a hard time, you know, eating healthier or, you know, just even getting introduced to eating buffalo again or other indigenous ingredients?  

Kim 00:08:17 Oh, for sure. I think that buffalo is so interesting to me, that people so often I'm like, oh, I don't, I don't use buffalo. And then I'm like, uh, okay, well, you exist because your people ate buffalo, you know? And, and I'm like, uh, yeah, so it's a sacred, you know, it's a sacred animal. Yes. But it's also, it's, it's good for you. Like buffalo is like good for your gut, it's blood makes things for your body. And it also, I've really believed that it gives you like medicine, the energy of, you know, that's the food of our, and they're from this land, like, you know, from these lands and like thats in us too. Right. When we consume it. And so I always tell people like, just try it. And they're like, oh no, it's so dry. Or like, well, you never had my buffalo before, so I'm gonna, you know, give it, give it a shot.  

And um, they're like, oh my God, it's so good. It's amazing. I'm like, they're like, that's better than beef. I'm like, Yeahhhh!” When, you know, when they know how to treat it right. 

Matte Right. Exactly. 

Kim You know, it's all about learning too. And I also feel like, because of colonialism and all these other things, that we as a society are like, what's fast, what's easy, is what's best. 

Matte Yeah. 

Kim And very often I don't think that my food is very fancy per se, like ingredient wise, you know, I feel like it's pretty basic. But it's all about like having patience with it, you know, um, when I, the way that I cook my, my, my slow-roasted buffalo is, um, I just put salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and I just rub it all over. And then I hard char it on the grill. And then I put it in the roaster and I put it on high for an hour. And I either use, if I have duck fat, I either put a cup of duck fat on top, or I put a stick of butter and then I slow cook it for twelve hours on low, low temperature. And it like, melts in your mouth. It's so, so good. And it just like melts in your mouth and it feels really special. Like it feels, it doesn't just feel like, oh, roast it. There's something about it. That just feels really special about it.  

And you know, I think it's, it's just like reconnecting people to like it doesn't and taking away like the intimidation of it, I think is important. Um, cause we've all burned a buffalo burger. I know I have, I am not ashamed to admit it is that, you know, of recognizing that it just doesn't have the same fat content as beef and you can't treat it like beef, and it will burn, you know, it doesn't have those same qualities, but also just being all, one of my favorite things about cooking is that, you know, we all mess up. Um, and it doesn't have to be perfect every time, but you can, there's different ways to correct things in the kitchen that I feel like is symbolic of life, you know, is like, just because of this, you did this this way. You can still, you know, quantify it by balancing it off with something else. 

Matte 00:11:46  Hmm. Yeah. Um, yeah, I was, it was awesome. And I was able to try, um, your buffalo meatballs two years ago at the first Lakota Food Summit in Rapid, um, that was, uh, that was a pretty cool event. So I'm pretty excited for, for this years. 

Kim 00:12:03 It was really fun! I thought that it was just like, it felt really magical for all of us to be together and cook together and, you know, figure it out. But I know my buffalo meatballs are like always a huge hit, which I think is hilarious. Yeah.  

Matte 00:12:17 So speaking of recipes, do you have a favorite recipe that you like to cook, or do you have a favorite food? It doesn't have to be indigenous. 

Kim 00:12:25 Um, no, definitely not. My favorite food that I cook, and I do cook it probably once a month, is I cook paella and, um, yeah. And there's lots of different ways to cook paella, but the way that I cook it is, um, we have one of my distributors here is an amazing, um, seafood place where they dropship fresh, fresh seafood every day. And so I get like mussels and big prawns and scallops, and I also use some chicken breasts and then I just do some, whatever sausage I have. And, um, I, um, you want me to tell the recipe? Yeah, right?

Matte 00:13:11I mean, if you want to, you don't have to, but yeah, this, it sounds good.  

Kim 00:13:17 It's my favorite. My aunt used to make it growing up. And so I crave, like crave it, I even crave the smell in my house, if that makes sense. Like the, I don't know, it just smells so good. And so then what I do is I put like a half a stick of butter, um, in a big like Dutch oven pan. And then I put a whole yellow onion chopped and I saute it. Um, and then I put the, I put in about two cups of arborio rice. Arborio rice is, you know, a more denser rice and I pop it. Like, I make it until it's golden brown and you can smell it. It kind of smells like popcorn. Um, and so then I, you know, I pop it and then once it gets really golden and you really want to watch this because a lot of people, this is one of my frustrations too, and I'm sure you see this as like, when people are cooking, they're like on their phone or they're like doing whatever.  

And I'm like, just cook, you know, because like, it's a spiritual act, even when you're cooking for yourself and your family. And it's like, just focus on that. Like I like, love listening to music. I love visiting when I cook, but I just focus on cooking, but this is a really crucial part because if you burn, if you burn the rice, when you're, um, toasting it, then you got to start all the way over. Otherwise like the dish isn’t even worth completing. So, um, toast the rice, then I put in, um, uh, bone broth, chicken bone broth. And, um, I, you know, just make it like I would, and I put in a pinch of saffron strings and I you know, I put it all together and then I let it simmer for about twenty minutes or so until all the moisture is, is collected.  

And then in my pan, my paella pan, I prepare it. I turn the oven on to 500 (F) and I put in, like, I chop up asparagus and about two bulbs of garlic. I know it sounds like a lot. Um, and Brussels sprouts and mushrooms and whatever vegetable I really want. I just put it all in there. And, and then I start to pile like, then I put the sausage and then I put the chicken and then I put the shrimp and then I put the mussels and then I cover it with the golden yellow saffron rice. Um, and I cook it for about thirty minutes and it has this like golden crispy edge. And then once you open it, like put your spoon in all this, the fragrance of the seafood and the vegetables and the garlic and, oh my gosh, it is so good. And I'm telling you if I cook it for you, you know, I love you. Number one, number two. You'll like, like, you'll think about that dish all the time, anyone that I've ever cooked before, you know what I think I wish I think about it all. So that is like one of my all time favorite dishes. Yeah.  

Matte 00:16:15 That sounds amazing. Oh, so only right now, like I need to take a lunch break and - 

Kim 00:16:22 Yeah. It's, it's my favorite. It's so good. I mean, and it's, like I said, you can do all different things. Like, even if you, what I love about paella, that it is a Spanish dish that was literally created kind of like for the poor, you, you kind of did what my dad did, you know? So like you open the refrigerator, you open your cupboard, you kind of be like, okay, I have some things I have some artichokes I need to get rid of. I have some tomatoes that are going to be over ripe by, you know, you kind of just make what you had with it and then put it in the saffron and the rice and, you know, saffron is, you know, it’s actually incredibly expensive, but you don't need much to really go a long way. And I just love that, like saffron smell and taste, it just feels so decadent. Mmmm. 

Matte 00:17:10 Oh yeah. That sounds magical. So hopefully we'll get the chance, an opportunity to try it one day. 

Kim 00:17:18 Yeah, for sure. I would love to, I’d love with that for us to cook together someday, too.  

Matte 00:17:23 Yeah, me too. That'd be awesome. Um, I think we just have one last question. Um, and it is for, um, anybody looking to start their own business. Do you have any, any advice for them?  

Kim 00:17:34 My advice would be, you know, make sure that you have a passion for it because even during like hard times, your passion will help you be innovative and creative to get you through. And when you're first starting your business, I tell people, you know, jot on a blank piece of paper - does not need to be fancy - you know, write down like who you are, what is it that you want to do? Who are your customers? Um, what are you, what is, what service or product are you selling? How much are you selling it for? How much do you need to sell to make a living that is livable for you? And if you can't do that on that simple, you know, in an hour, one page piece of paper, I, I’d tell you to take a step back and really think through it, you know, really like spend a little bit more time thinking through the business.  

Like if you really want to do this, because this is your story, right? It's like that one, I call it the back of the envelope business plan, but this is your, this is your story. And that's how people will invest in you. That's how, um, lenders will lend to you. That's how customers will find you. And you want to understand your business before you tried to get people to understand your business for you, if that makes sense. Um, and I think it's a, it's not a pain. It should not be a painful process. Like, this is your dream, right? There's like, you're- people always often think that when you start a business, um, oh, I get to do what I want, I work for myself. I get to, you know, go on all these vacations and uh, you know, do all this stuff.  

And I'm like, uh, no, you're working almost more, right. You're working, you know, between fifteen and eighteen hours a day. And you're because you're doing it, all your marketing, you're selling you're, um, making sure that your financials are getting done. You're making sure taxes are being paid. You're making sure you're following all the health department codes and all this stuff. And so you have a lot happening plus you need to have customers and you need to take care of those customers and you need to order for whatever your product is and all this stuff - it's a lot. And you have to really love it because it's not going to be worth a few dollars. And when you work for yourself, there's nothing better and more fulfilling, but there's also nothing harder.  

Matte 00:20:07 Yeah, definitely. And if people were interested in contacting you, where can we find you?  

Kim 00:20:15 You can email me, um, at [email protected], or you can go to my website, either, that's for entrepreneurial, entrepreneurial reasons or for, for catering, just And we have a beautiful website. It's actually going to be revamped here in the next month or so. And I'm going to be going through some rebranding, but you'll be able to see that on social media and Facebook and all that.  

Matte 00:20:46  Awesome. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, um, Kim, I really appreciate it. It's been fun.  

Kim 00:20:53    It was. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I really appreciate it too.  

Outro 00:20:56 You’ve been listening to Food Revolution with the Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook at Sicangu Community Development Corporation, Instagram @sicangucdc, and check out our website, Thanks for tuning in and we'll catch you next time in two weeks.

Produced by Mairi Creedon


Brought to you by Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative of Food Revolution