Native Cooking: Arthur Sonny Boy Fields loves working with game meats and giving them a twist
Every region has a different taste and that’s what he finds intriguing.
Arthur Sonny Boy Fields, 30, grew up in Pawnee eating traditional food common to Native Americans in the Great Plains region. However, while working in Washington, D.C. he developed an appetite for other Native foods. This introduction to Native cuisines began by eating lunch in the cafeteria at work.
Fields worked in visitor services at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. from 2005 to 2009. Inside the museum is The Mitsitam Native Foods Café, which features traditional and contemporary Native dishes from places such as Meso America, South America and the Northern Woodlands. Fields found inspiration in all the Native flavors.
“I like to cook already and it just kind of triggered my passion and my drive to shoot for that career route,” Fields, Pawnee, said. “Cooking is something I really like and enjoy and I want to stick with this.”
After moving back to Oklahoma, Fields worked odd jobs until his wife, Diana, heard about the culinary arts program at Francis Tuttle Technology Center in Oklahoma City. She took the initiative to research the school and to enroll him.
“I was surprised,” Fields said. “I thank her all the time.”
Ever since his culinary education began, opportunities have begun to flourish for Fields. In May 2013, while volunteering at an event called the OK Chefs Relief, for Moore tornado victims, Fields met and worked with local chefs, including Josh Valentine. Valentine once competed on the TV show “Top Chef,” and will now be the executive chef at The George prime steakhouse in Oklahoma City, when it opens this year. Fields said he will be working for Valentine.
“I’m just excited to be going there and working for him,” Fields said. “I told him I’m going to do whatever I can do in the kitchen. I don’t care if I’m cutting carrots for 8 hours … as long as I’m learning from the best.”
Fields is also quick to give credit to Chef Kurt Fleischfresser, of The Coach House restaurant in Oklahoma City, and all the chefs at Francis Tuttle, but especially Marc Dunham, the culinary director. Fields said Dunham is somebody he really looks up to. He said he appreciates the opportunity to work with all the chefs, learn from them and have them as role models.
Another renowned chef Fields would like to encounter is Gordon Ramsay, who challenges cooks in the TV series “Hell’s Kitchen.” Fields said he would like Ramsay to surprise him in the kitchen and offer a critique and some input. “It could be bad or good,” he said. “I hope it would be good.”
The first cook Fields learned from was his grandmother Velma Smith, Pawnee and Otoe. He said he remembers watching her cook breakfast when he was growing up in Pawnee. Overall, as a Native chef, Fields wants to cook traditional food special to Native Americans and give it a bit of a twist.
“I like to use game meats. I’m an avid hunter from October to late January,” Fields said. “Deer, turkey, hog, squirrel, rabbit … I love rabbit … I love working with deer. We’ve got tons of it between myself, my uncle and a couple of buddies. There’s always deer in the freezer and there’s tons of ways to work with deer from roast to smoked ribs, tamales, anything and everything. I want to get into bison and hopefully put together a menu.”
One of his goals is to prepare game meat in a way that would appeal to people who would otherwise not try it. He also enjoys cooking the more familiar food, like fry bread, Indian tacos and meat pies.
“With everything I’m doing, I’m representing my family, my people, my tribe and our Native peoples, and I’m trying to do this in the most respectful way,” Fields said. “If I cook something and it’s sacred to this tribe I don’t want to put it out there … I’m trying to represent my family, my tribe and my people to the best of my ability and keep Native foods out there. There are people all across this country that don’t think Native people exist. When I was on the east coast, people were like, ‘Oh, the Natives are still here.’ I just want to get it out there and let people love it. So, that’s my big goal. Keep it real and respectful, is what I’m shooting for.”
“This is something I love; my livelihood. I have four children and one on the way. So, I’m working hard and trying to produce as much as I can for my family,” Fields said. “All my family is happy. My kids are happy, my wife is happy … that’s something I can be happy about.”
Fields said the baby on the way is going to be a little girl and she’ll be named after his grandmother
Velma, “... the one I watched cook so many times.”
His wife Diana Fields said, “Arthur (Sonny) is an amazing husband, father and chef. I can’t speak highly enough about his food, it’s refined and always beautiful and perfectly flavored. Sonny’s skill reaches far beyond his passion for traditional Native foods, he can cook any type of cuisine including Contemporary American and Italian and French. I am so happy that he is able to do what he loves and I am one of his biggest cheerleaders.”
Arthur Field’s Venison Steak and Potatoes
Fields says this recipe was inspired by his interview with writer Dana Attocknie for Native Oklahoma Magazine.
1 Venison tenderloin
2 cups medium diced sweet potatoes
1/2 cup of small-diced red onion
Three to four strips of Bacon diced into small pieces
(freeze for easier cutting)
Salt and Pepper
Preheat oven at 350˚, then season your tenderloin with salt and pepper. In a hot pan sear and brown on all sides then move to your oven for 10-15 min depending on preference (rare, medium or well done). Take out tenderloin and let rest for 10-15 min, and then slice into medallions.
Sweet Potato Hash
In a hot pan, start cooking your bacon. Once the bacon is cooked 3/4ths of the way add the onion. Sauté the diced onion in the bacon fat for 1-2 min. Then add your 2 cups of medium-diced sweet potatoes and cook on low-medium heat until soft. Add salt and pepper to taste then plate and enjoy