August 08, 2007
Indian café serves NMAI
Mitsitam Cafe puts indigenous cuisine on the map
The Mitsitam Cafe tops $5 million in gross revenues a year, serves between 500 and 2,000 visitors a day, purchases 30 percent of its supplies from indigenous providers, employs 55 people, does 80 to 85 percent of its sales in indigenous-provided high-volume foodstuffs such as buffalo, salmon, turkey and wild rice, and--courtesy of tourists drawn from all over the world to the place it calls home, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian--has placed indigenous foods smack dab on the map of international cuisine.The Native food suppliers: More indigenous suppliers are always wanted, but the volume Hetzler needs can be a challenge. Intertribal Bison Cooperative can provide 250,000 pounds of buffalo in six cuts annually, the Quinault provide plenty of salmon and the traditional cedar plank cookery, and elk may appear on the menu this fall because Native sourcing looks feasible. But churro lamb flock sizes aren't large enough yet, and the appearance of sorrel cactus syrup depends on the chollom bud harvest. For that matter, fiddlehead ferns are in season only briefly; and produce generally has to be supplied from near at hand or it can't be kept fresh.What the critics say: Serious complaints about the food quality are few and far between--to the contrary, the Mitsitam has won stellar reviews from the restaurant guides. That's in part because the museum flew in cuisine specialists from the five regions represented at separate stations--South America, Meso America, the Great Plains, the Northwest and the Northeast. They gave the cafe its first and most important stamp of approval, not to mention useful tips.