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Native American chef Crystal Wahpepah brought some Indigenous flavor to national television last night with an appearance on the Food Network’s kitchen-competition program, Beat Bobby Flay. 

The episode — titled “Kitchen Crime Scene” in honor of guest judge Angie Harmon of Law and Order fame — featured Wahpepah, an enrolled citizen of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. She is the owner and chef of Wahpepah’s Kitchen, which is based in Oakland, California and features Indigenous cuisine. 

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“I’ve always kind of been a fan of Bobby,” Wahpepah said in an interview yesterday with Native News Online. “When they contacted me, I didn’t have to think much about it.”

Beat Bobby Flay is a popular television show on The Food Network that features various chefs competing against the show’s namesake. Flay is an award-winning chef who has been on the network since 1995 and has earned a star on Hollywood’s “Walk of Fame.” 

The cooking competition show features two rounds of contests that are judged in a blind taste test. The first round is between two chefs, with the winner of that round facing off against Flay in round two. Two judges determine the winner of each round. 

During the first round, contestants cook for 20 minutes against each other using an ingredient chosen by Flay. 

In the first round, Wahpepah squared off against Adrien Blech, a chef from New York. 

For the main ingredient, Flay chose escarole, which is a bitter leafy vegetable that is a member of the chicory family. Wahpepah whipped up an escarole salad featuring a warm sauce of Indigenous berries, walnuts, onions and herbs, including culinary sage. 

“It’s a beautiful salad,” Harmon said during the judging for the round. “I love the colors and that you used the escarole in two different ways.” 

The other judge, chef and Food Network regular Scott Conant, added, “I love the duality of the escarole and the Indigenous berries are a really nice approach, but the sage is kind of really assertive.”

After conferring, Harmon and Conant chose Blech’s dish as the winner, advancing him to the final cook-off against Flay and sending Wahpepah home.    

“I’m definitely disappointed, but this experience meant a lot to me because I got to represent Native American chefs from all over,” Wahpepah said on the program after the judging.

In a conversation yesterday with Native News, Wahpepah stressed she had a lot of fun on the program.  “I would definitely do it again.” 

Asked if she would cook with escarole again, she gave a firm no.  “It’s more bitter than greens,” she said. 

This isn’t the first time Wahpepah appeared on The Food Network either. She was featured on the network’s show Chopped in 2016, and was the first Native American chef to compete on the popular show. 

“I loved it,” Wahpepah said of the Beat Bobby Flay production. “It was a totally different experience than Chopped. You don’t know what to expect on the show.”

When asked if she ever thought she would compete on the show Beat Bobby Flay she said no. The episode was filmed over a year ago, in 2022, Wahpepah said and has had to remain quiet about it ever since. 

“Lots of people are proud,” she said. “They are just happy as we are when we see each other.”

Wahpepah was a finalist in the 2022 James Beard Foundation as an Emerging Chef. Her restaurant features foods that come from Indigenous people and lands: bison, salmon, venison, squash, hominy, fiddleheads, and much more.

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About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.