Cover of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian's cookbook, “The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook,” authored by Mitsitam Cafe executive chef Richard Hetzler.
The Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian became the first museum restaurant in Washington, D.C., to earn a Rammy award from the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. Honored as the “Casual Restaurant of the Year,” the Mitsitam Cafe earned the distinction at the 30th annual Rammy Gala at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel Sunday, June 24.
The Rammys, known as the “Oscars of Washington, D.C., restaurants,” are held annually to recognize the city’s finest chefs, restaurants and bars within the metropolitan area. This year, more than 125 restaurants, bars and hotels competed in 16 categories. The Mitsitam’s honor of “Casual Restaurant” is a new award that debuted this year.
The Mitsitam Cafe is a Washington favorite for its Native-inspired dishes and its prime location on the National Mall near the museum’s Potomac Atrium, where tribal festivals, art markets and performances are held throughout the year. The cafe, divided into five geographic stations, serves traditional and contemporary dishes that reflect the culinary culture of American Indian communities from the Andes to the Arctic. The unique cooking techniques, ingredients and flavors serve as another way to share and preserve the knowledge and culture of Native communities. Last week, Mitsitam unveiled its summer menu featuring crispy rabbit, chilled purple potato soup, Peruvian ceviche and many other delicious options. The menu changes seasonally.
The Mitsitam Cafe also supports Native American entrepreneurs like the InterTribal Buffalo Council, a nonprofit organization made up of 56 member tribes that supplies the cafe with bison meat for buffalo burgers, chili and other dishes, as well as the Tribal Grounds Coffee, a coffee company owned by members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina, and Quinault Pride Seafood, a Native-owned fishery in Washington state, which supplies the cafe with wild salmon.
Mitsitam’s Executive Chef Richard Hetzler, who has been with the museum since it opened in 2004, has appeared on NPR, the Food Network’s Chef vs. City and Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels, and will judge the Native Chef Cooking Competition, an annual outdoor cook-off, at the museum’s Living Earth Festival, Sunday, July 22, at 1 p.m. A graduate of the Baltimore International College, Hetzler was a key figure in the programming and implementation of the Mitsitam’s menu, ingredients and atmosphere. Members of his team, Sous Chefs Jerome Grant and Melvin Gonzalez, and Mitsitam Cafe Manager Miriam Menkir, were in attendance during the Rammy awards ceremony.
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