Chef Karlos Baca, of Ignacio, grew up foraging for traditional, Native American ingredients in the San Juan Mountains. Later, he went on to learn classical European cooking and became the head chef at some posh restaurants. Now he tells Colorado Matters he considers himself an indigenous food activist who says the loss of traditional foods threatens the very lives of his people, given how “modern” diets have led to illnesses like diabetes.
Baca is speaking this weekend at the I-Collective Food Justice Symposium in Dolores.
One of the ingredients he forages for, even today, is called Bear Root. He uses it to prepare Blue Corn Mush with Pine Needle Syrup, which connects him to his Dine and Ute grandparents. His earliest childhood memories revolve around the concept of food as medicine and memory.
His grandmother often gave him blue corn mush — also known as atole — and his grandfather taught him medicines and the reasons to collect herbs and foods, the times to collect, the stories of the medicines and the ways they nourish and to heal. So those food and medicine memories are ingrained in his being. The dish incorporates the teachings of his grandparents and elders but it also has a history with the indigenous peoples in the Four Corners area.