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Dressed in traditional Native American clothing and with tears in her eyes, Sherry Pocknett made history as the first indigenous woman to win a James Beard Award for culinary excellence. 

A member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Pocknett was announced as the Best Chef Northeast on Monday night at the annual awards ceremony at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Called “the Oscars of the food world,” the Beard Awards are recognized as one of the most prestigious honors in the culinary industry, highlighting excellence and contributions that chefs make to their communities. 

Pocknett creates Indigenous cuisine that comes from her Wampanoag culture at her restaurant, Sly Fox Den Too, located at 4349 South County Trail in Charlestown, Rhode Island. The restaurant has developed a reputation for its foraged, fished, and hunted foods, including venison, rabbit, quahogs, fish, and fresh vegetables and herbs. 

Prior to starting Sly Fox Den Too, Pocknett was the food and beverage director at the The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center. During her time there, she overhauled the menu from hamburgers and hot dogs to traditional Native foods such as ​​turtle soup, bluefish and venison. 

Pocknett is a first-time nominee for the Beard award and the second Native American to win a national Beard award in the past two years. Owamni, an Indigenous-owned restaurant in Minneapolis founded by Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota) and Dana Thompson (Mdewakanton Dakota, Wahpeton Sisseton), was honored as the best new restaurant in 2022.

Sherman was in attendance at the Beard awards this year, greeting Pocknett with a congratulatory hug as she walked down the aisle to accept her award. 

On stage, Pocknett gave an emotional speech, saying she represented all the northeastern tribes and never expected the honor of receiving the Beard award. 

She also revealed to the audience she is battling breast cancer, and that she recently completed chemotherapy and will undergo surgery soon. 

"I'm just waiting for all that to be over, to get on with it," she told CT Insider in an interview after the award ceremony. "I just want to cook, I just want to create. I just want people to know that Wampanoag people are here, and we're not going anywhere. We're still cooking, we're still moving and grooving and winning James Beard awards."

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About The Author
Kaili Berg
Author: Kaili BergEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Reporter
Kaili Berg (Aleut) is a member of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Nation, and a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. She is a staff reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Berg, who is based in Wisconsin, previously reported for the Ho-Chunk Nation newspaper, Hocak Worak. She went to school originally for nursing, but changed her major after finding her passion in communications at Western Technical College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.