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Mashpee Wampanoag Chef Makes History After Receiving the Prestigious James Beard Award

Sherry Pocknett, a proud member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, received well-deserved recognition from the prestigious James Beard Foundation as the outstanding chef in the northeastern region of the United States.

Mashpee Wampanoag
Sherry Pocknett, a proud member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, received well-deserved recognition from the prestigious James Beard Foundation as the outstanding chef in the northeastern region of the United States. Image via YouTube

Sherry Pocknett, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, has achieved a historic milestone by becoming the first indigenous woman to receive a James Beard Award for culinary excellence. This momentous occasion took place at the annual Beard Awards ceremony held in Chicago’s Lyric Opera, where Pocknett accepted the highly esteemed Best Chef Northeast award, adorned in traditional Native American attire and with tears of joy in her eyes.

Pocknett has gained renown for her restaurant, Sly Fox Den Too, located in Charlestown, Rhode Island. At her establishment, she showcases Indigenous cuisine deeply rooted in her Wampanoag heritage. Pocknett’s culinary creations reflect a harmonious blend of foraged, fished, and hunted foods, including venison, rabbit, quahogs, fish, and a variety of fresh vegetables and herbs. Prior to opening her own restaurant, Pocknett served as the food and beverage director at The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, where she introduced traditional Native foods to the menu.

The significance of Pocknett’s win extends beyond her personal achievement, serving as a milestone for Native American chefs and their invaluable contributions to the culinary world. As a first-time nominee, Pocknett joins a growing list of esteemed Native American chefs who have been recognized by the James Beard Foundation. In 2022, Owamni, an Indigenous-owned restaurant in Minneapolis founded by Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota) and Dana Thompson (Mdewakanton Dakota, Wahpeton Sisseton), received the award for best new restaurant.

During the awards ceremony, Pocknett received a warm embrace from Sean Sherman, underscoring the spirit of camaraderie and support within the culinary community. In her emotional acceptance speech, she expressed profound gratitude for the honor bestowed upon her and acknowledged that she represents not only herself but also all the northeastern tribes. Pocknett courageously revealed that she is currently battling breast cancer, having recently completed chemotherapy and preparing for surgery.

Despite facing health challenges, Pocknett remains resilient and determined to pursue her culinary passion. She aims to leverage her platform to highlight the culinary traditions of the Wampanoag people and emphasize their enduring presence and contributions to the culinary world. Winning the James Beard Award not only recognizes Pocknett’s remarkable talent but also reinforces the important message that Indigenous cuisines are vibrant, dynamic, and deserving of recognition and appreciation on a global scale.

Sherry Pocknett’s historic achievement as the first indigenous woman to win a James Beard Award sets a precedent for future generations of Native American chefs, inspiring them to embrace their cultural heritage, showcase their culinary skills, and continue to make significant strides in the world of gastronomy.

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