When entrepreneur Charity Blanchett, 35, first got involved in the culinary world several years ago, she noticed a glaring hole in the representation of chefs she saw: None of them were Indigenous.
“Chefs are artists, food is their paint,” said Blanchett, who is Alaska Native and African American. “Why is the industry inhibiting Indigenous art?”
Blanchett, who was raised in Wasilla to a Yupik mother from the Arctic and Black father from Philadelphia, would attend culinary events, hear about popular initiatives to eat locally and think, “This is nothing new for my ancestors.”
“It really got me thinking about all the Indigenous food waves and food sovereignty and about where my mother grew up and what my ancestors had to do to survive,” she said. She remembers her aunties coming over, as a child, for potlucks and feasting on traditional food harvested from the land. “Farm to table had been around forever, it’s just now a trendy term.”
Blanchett, who left Alaska at age 30 and lived in Hawaii before settling in New Orleans, hatched an idea to encourage more Native and Black representation in the kitchen by fostering it herself.
Blanchett began seeking funders to support a nonprofit that would fully support aspiring Indigenous and Black women from Alaska, Hawaii and Louisiana between 18 and 26 years old to attend culinary school at New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute in Louisiana. Blanchett said she eventually landed in New Orleans because of a similar sense of community, diversity and culture she was surrounded by growing up in Alaska, and similarly found in Hawaii.
The Dipping Spoon Foundation, named after Blanchett’s Native name Qalutaq — meaning from one dip, you serve other people — is still in its fundraising stages. Blanchett hired one staff member, her friend Kelsi Ivanoff from Unalakleet, to assist with growing the foundation in rural Alaska.
In November, the nonprofit received a $5,000 grant from an organization called Black Food Folks in partnership with Talenti Gelato. Blanchett also tapped her culinary networks in Anchorage and Juneau to spread the word. NANA Management Services, a food services subsidiary of NANA Regional Corp., is in discussion about partnering with the Dipping Spoon Foundation, Blanchett said.
Blanchett’s goal is to send three students to NOCHI each year, beginning as soon as funding allows. NOCHI’s yearlong curriculum includes a pastry arts program as well as a culinary arts program, and costs $60,000 per student. The Dipping Spoon will cover tuition, travel, housing, mental health services, paid externships and mentorships.
The organization’s goal is to encourage reclaiming Native culture, Blanchett said.
“I think it goes down to your identity,” she said. “Your identity — especially if you’re Ingenious — we’re from this land. When you are stripped of your identity, what you’re stripped of is your language and your food and your dancing. How do we take back our culture? I think a perfect way to do that it through food. Food is truly at the forefront of all Indigenous culture and I believe we champion culture by rebelling against boundaries.”
Blanchett said this program aims to inspire youths to be anything they want to be.
“If you’re a little girl from rural Alaska that wants to be a chef, you can be a chef,” she said. “Just because you come from a little village of maybe 300 people, like my mom, does not mean you can’t access those exact same things that other people do. You can do it through the Dipping Spoon Foundation. We’re going to provide those tools for you to become an entrepreneurial rock star.”
To apply for a scholarship through the Dipping Spoon Foundation, or to donate to support a student, visit dippingspoon.org/apply.