Former Mashantucket Pequot Museum chef is first Indigenous woman to win James Beard Award
Chef Sherry Pocknett, who used to be the food and beverage manager for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, became the first Indigenous woman to win a James Beard Award on Monday.
Pocknett won the Best Chef: Northeast category during a ceremony in Chicago.
She was nominated for her work at her Sly Fox Den Too restaurant in Charlestown, R.I. The restaurant, which she opened in 2021, focuses on Indigenous cuisine and food traditions. The venue’s signature dish is fish stew.
During her acceptance speech, Pocknett said, “I have cancer. I’m sure I’m not the only one in the room that does. But I’m almost through it, I’m almost through it. For this honor ― it’s just unbelievable.”
She teared up.
“It’s something I never even dreamed of. Thank you,” she said.
Earlier in her speech, Pocknett, who was dressed in traditional clothing, said she represented the Northeast tribes and their cooking ways.
“Ooooh, this was a surprise,” she said.
She became emotional, and the audience applauded.
Pocknett then went on: “Thank you. My mother told me yesterday when I talked to her on the phone, she said, ‘Your grandmother’s with you.’ ... It’s my grandmother’s birthday (today).”
Pocknett was not immediately available for further comment.
The commentator for the awards on streaming noted that Sly Fox Den Too incorporates mostly Indigenous ingredients and preparation that are mostly native to North America, and that the restaurant offers a lot of programming about the true history of food in North America.
She is a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and grew up on Cape Cod. She was hired to revamp the menu of the restaurant at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum when it was being rebranded in 2016.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council had this statement about Pocknett after her win: “Chef Sherry Pocknett is, by far, the most talented Native Chef in New England, representing Northeastern Woodland Tribal cuisines with excellence. We couldn’t be more proud of her history-making accomplishment in winning the prestigious James Beard Award. Congratulations, Chef Sherry!”
Pocknett was one of five finalists in the best chef in the Northeast category. The other finalists included Renee Touponce of The Port of Call in Mystic, along with Valentine Howell of Krasi in Boston, Christian Hunter of Community Table in New Preston, Conn., and Yisha Siu of Yunnan Kitchen in Boston.
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