A Santa Fe, New Mexico based chef, author, Native foods historian and photographer Lois Ellen Frank was born in New York City and raised on Long Island, New York with her father’s side of the family. She is from the Kiowa Nation on her mother’s side and Sephardic on her father’s side. Her first career experiences were as a professional cook and organic gardener.
Lois has spent over 25 years documenting foods and life ways of Native American tribes from the Southwest. This lengthy immersion in Native American communities culminated in her book, Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations, featuring traditional and contemporary recipes. It won the James Beard Award in the Americana category and was the first Native American book to win the award. She has worked with world-renowned chefs, scientists and academicians and collaborated with them to publish many culinary posters and cookbooks. She has worked with National and International advertising agencies as well as many editorial clients as a chef and a photographer.
Lois received her Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico in Culinary Anthropology in July 2011. Her dissertation entitled The Discourse and Practice of Native American Cuisine: Native American Chefs and Native American Cooks in Contemporary Southwest Kitchens, will also be one of her next books, tentatively entitled The Turquoise Plate. She received her Master of Arts in Cultural Anthropology in May, 1999 where she focused on the importance of corn as a common thread to all Indigenous tribes throughout the Americas.
In October of 2011, Dr. Frank was awarded the Krider Prize for Creativity by the UCDA Foundation, University and College Designers Association, which honors creativity in an individual or organization at their annual conference held this year in Phoenix, Arizona.
She continues to be involved in research on foods, including medicinal and spiritual plants, as well as working on projects focusing on the importance of traditional foods amongst Indigenous Peoples throughout the Americas, as sustenance and their uses ritually. Her Ph.D. thesis examines contemporary Southwestern Chefs using indigenous ingredients in their cooking and how this is representational of their own identities. She worked with Native American & Non-Native chefs that combine traditional ingredients with contemporary techniques. A big part of her dissertation work included the senses, the ethno-aesthtics of food and food presentation, and food as an integral part of local identities.She continues to use her strong photographic background with her learned academic knowledge to publish books, museum exhibitions, and papers on this subject.
Chef Frank is a featured cooking instructor at the Santa Fe School of Cooking where she teaches about Native American foods of the Southwest. Guest Chef appearances have taken her to many famous restaurants around the country where she, with Native Chef Walter Whitewater (Diné) have prepared delicious menus from the foods she has studied. She continues to teach about foods as a guest chef, lecturer, and instructor Nationally.
Dr. Frank is an adjunct professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she teaches a four credit science class on the Indigenous Concepts of Native American Food, from a curriculum that she developed.
Dr. Frank has appeared in several TV Shows including, “Southwest Cooking with Bobby Flay” Food TV Network, a segment entitled cooking with Native American Foods produced by Kashi, and released two public education DVD’s as part of the Food for Life program with the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) using Plant Based Ancestral Native American ingredients for healthy Native American cooking entitled “The Power to Heal Diabetes: Food for Life in Indian Country”
Dr. Frank has written food articles for New Mexico Magazine, Guest Life New Mexico, Edible Santa Fe, Aboriginal Voices,Vegetarian Times Magazine, to name a few, on foods of the Southwest and Native American foods of the region. In many of the published pieces she has been the photographer as well as the author and the chef. She was the project coordinator for an event at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, entitled, Connecting Communities: Native Foods and Wellness.
Chef Frank started a Native American Catering and Food Company named Red Mesa Cuisine. Red Mesa cooks for private events, parties, weddings, corporate meetings and gallery openings as well as Native events and organizations all over the United States. Red Mesa combines Native American Culture and Cuisine by providing patrons with the history of the foods from the Southwest Indian Nations where she along with Chef Walter Whitewater (Dine) give patrons a unique fine-dining experience unlike anything anywhere in the state. Chef Frankhas worked with the Cultural Conversance (TCC), American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), the Tohono O’odham Community Action group (TOCA), the Center for Sustainable Environments at the University of Northern Arizona University (CSE), the Cultural Conservancy in San Francisco, the California Indian Basket weavers Association (CIBA), Museum of Natural History in New York, The Grand Canyon Trust, Bioneers, The Global Center for Cultural Exchange (GEEC), and The New Mexico Community Foundation and opened the exhibit Totems to Turquoise at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles. Corporate Clients include the Sysco Board of Directors, Seed Savors Board of Directors, Women in Business, as well as The Garden Club of Portland, Kiva Fine Art Gallery and many others.
Chef Frank along with Chef Whitewater taught a series of cooking classes at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC), the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), on Healthy Native American Foods and cooking sponsored by PCRM and taught a Native American Kids Camp for the Santa Fe Public Schools.
In addition, Dr. Frank was the keynote speaker at FUZE SW in September of 2014, she presented at the American Indian Institute (Aii), Native Women and Men’s Wellness Conference in conjunction with the University of Oklahoma in Albuquerque, New Mexico and at the American Association of Diabetes Educator’s (AADE) in Las Vegas, Nevada entitled ” Ancestral Diets for Modern-Day Native Americans: Reclaiming Health and Healing Diabetes. Dr. Frank was of the featured speakers with Chef Whitewater at the Quecham Tribe’s first Health and Wellness Conference in Yuma, Arizona. The two chef’s traveled to Guam as part of the Guam’s humanities council’s project I Tano yan O Tasi, Land and Sea – Ecological Literacy on the U.S. Pacific of Guamand cooked for one of their featured events entitled Eat Your Heritage 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner as part of the councils aim to promote a healthier lifestyle by eating local foods which the chefs cooked with other local Chamorro chefs.
They traveled to the Ukraine in 2013 and to the United Kingdom in 2015 as culinary ambassadors with the U.S. Embassy. As culinary diplomats they help educate on the ancestral Native American cuisine foods and promote the foods of the Americas.
She has been the subject of many articles on foods, chefs, and authors of the Southwest and continues to be active in all aspects of her career. Her research and documentation in written, photographic, and food form includes the agricultural, culinary, mythological, and socioeconomic uses of foods & plants amongst various indigenous peoples all over the Americas. She continues to be actively involved in her photographic career working with a diverse group of clients as well as pursuing her academic knowledge and teaching about foods of the Americas.