Method To The Madness
Vincent Medina & Louis Trevino
Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino, founders and chefs of Cafe Ohlone by Mak-'amham in Berkeley speak about their vision and experience with sharing traditional Ohlone food. They are reclaiming and reviving native ways while serving only pre-colonial foods.
Ojig Yeretsian: This is Method to the Madness, a biweekly public affairs show on KALX Berkeley, celebrating Bay Area innovators. I'm your host [inaudible 00:00:12], and today I'll be speaking with Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino, founders and chefs of Cafe Ohlone by Makamham, a restaurant serving traditional Ohlone foods located right here in Berkeley at 2430 Bancroft way.
Vincent Medina is a member of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe from the East Bay and Louis Trevino is a member of the Rumsen Ohlone tribe, which originated in the Monterey Bay area.
Together they now run Cafe Ohlone by Makamham, where they serve traditional foods and a very welcoming and engaging environment. I got to experience their cafe for the first time recently and was impressed by the design of the space, the meaningful exchanges, and the delicious food.
Welcome to the show, Louis and Vincent. Thank you for being here.
Vincent Medina: Thank you. [foreign language 00:01:01]. In our Chochenyo language, that means hello.
Ojig: Your cafe is receiving a lot of positive attention and great press. Tell us what inspired you to open Cafe Ohlone.
Vincent: Both Louis and myself, we grew up very proud of our Ohlone identities that was instilled in us from our families. Our grandparents had a lot of influence in our lives and our great grandparents. We saw how valuable and how meaningful our culture is.
Our identities were able to be carried on, and in my family, our connection to our land has also been able to be carried on. In my family here in the East Bay, no generation of our people have ever moved away from this space. There's a lot of power in that. We see how hard that our families have worked to keep our culture alive, but we also know that because colonization hit us really hard here in the Bay Area, especially here in the East Bay with the urbanity that surround us, it meant that not everything could be carried on naturally because of very forced oppression that came as a result of people coming here, invading our homes and trying to erase the original culture of this place.
However, our ancestors and our elders, the people who are even alive in our families today, were able to carry on as much as they could and the amount of what they are able to carry on it's amazing, and it gives us a lot of pride to know that in spite of those hardships, these things have kept going.
The ancestors of our community found ways to keep what wasn't able to be passed down because of how hard again, colonization affected us, they found ways to keep those things alive as well through old ethnographic recordings that they wrote and recorded in the 1920s and the 1930s that gave us the hope that one day we would be able to have those things again in our lives.
Louis and myself, we decided to create this organization called Makamham, which means, our food in Chochenyo language, because we wanted to be able to recognize those sacrifices from the people before us that they made. That one day when things were better and safer, that all these things could come back out again and we could have them in our lives and they could be passed down again to Ohlone people, and our elders can see these things respected again as well.
We want to acknowledge that this work, it's not just being done by us, but it's being done by many people in our community. Many people who are doing this work quietly. A lot of times people don't get that acknowledgement and we want to give that acknowledgement to our people and to acknowledge that it's not just us doing this work, but we're part of this work and we can only do this work because of those people before us who allow us to have these things.
It's disrespectful to those people not to be able to carry on our culture. We also want to create spaces, physical spaces, where we can see our identity reflected outside of our homes. It can be isolating and lonely when you're Ohlone growing up and you don't see any reminders that you exist or that anybody cares about you or wants to know about you outside of your home, even though you're right in your homeland.
We wanted to be able to create the space because growing up we didn't have these things, but now the Ohlone kids who are growing up, they get to see these things and they get to go to a restaurant where their culture is reflected and their food is served.
While it might be a small space right now, it represents a lot of hopes and a lot of dreams that our people have had for a long time and it also represents a lot of vision and to where our future is going as well.
Ojig: Would you like to add anything to that, Louis?
Louis Trevino: It's just that for our families, those living elders, people who are around today who remember these foods being eaten in their childhoods, they're the same generation that remembers also hearing our language when they were young people, who remember seeing those cooking methods, whose mothers and grandmothers took them out to gather plants for food.
They're also the generation of people who, for many reasons, we're not able to learn to speak our language, even though they heard it. Who were not taught the proper names of these plants always, and that knowledge was not passed down to them. In the case of my family, specifically because that older generation of people was trying very hard to also protect their children from the harm that the world around us was putting on us.
By doing this work, by bringing these foods back, by simultaneously continuing to work on reviving our languages, by bringing our family into this work and feeding them, we're also repairing that part of our family's history, that loss.
By feeding our elders, we're also feeding their parents and also feeding their children and their grandchildren and their great grandchildren, so that we can all have these things again, and so that harm that was done can be undone by us.
Ojig: Before Makamham, where would one go to eat native food in the East Bay or the Bay Area?
Vincent: Before we started our organization, there were a few foods that our people were still continuing to eat. Especially, for our elders, because they reminded them of foods that they ate when they were a young person.
I started to talk to my grandmother about foods that my great grandmother would gather, and she would tell me all these stories, Louis too, she would tell stories to him about how she would gather these foods, where she would gather them.
Because she's in the city, she would even have to gather them sometimes that when she was waiting for the bus at the Hayward bus station, her native plants that she loved, that she would find there, and you think about that, there's just something that's so cool about that thought of like resilience right there. Like, this strong, Ohlone lady, right there in her home, right where that's in the same area that where she's gathering this that our ancestors have always lived in, right along [inaudible 00:06:48], [inaudible] creek is right there in that area, in this urban setting, waiting for a bus in 20th century at that point and still gathering plants.
Probably, putting them in her purse right there. There's just something that's so cool about that with shows like how people just never give up these things no matter what's around us, how stubborn we are and how proud we are. Those are the people that I always look up to.
I know that in our family though, only a few of these foods really could have ... They were continued. Not many of them though were, just because of how hard things impacted us here. How accessible is it to go and gather our foods when we're in the middle of the city?
All of the inner East Bay where our people are raised, which is right in our traditional homeland as well is urban. It's definitely hard to be able to have access to these foods. And so, we wanted to be able to change that and that's why we created this organization before we even started with Cafe Ohlone.
We named it Makamham, because again, that means our food, and we named it this intentionally because we believe these are our collective foods. These are foods that belong to our people. This is also representative of the fact that Ohlone people, our tribe, we don't just want one thing back. We don't just want just simply language back or just simply our stories back or just one particular item, but all these things are interconnected with one another.
The truth is, we want everything back, because everything that was taken from us, was taken from us against our wishes. Those things that couldn't be carried on, we want to see all those things come back, including our land. Yes, that's the truth as well.
One thing that I try to work for and envision with Louis and with our people is what it looks to have a holistic revival and a reawakening, where through being in our homeland and gathering these foods, using our language alongside of the gathering methods of this food, speaking our language to one another, we reconnect with those old villages that our ancestors directly came from where we gather for an example, the Yerba Buena that we make tea. That's right in an area that where my great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother was born. All the way back.
As we do these things together collectively, it inches us back into that traditional world, and we see how much our people have always loved these things and it also is a reminder that when we are given the chance to be able to nurture our traditional culture, ever since colonization has come here, our people have always chosen to go back to traditional culture whenever given the chance. Right now, we're seeing that happen again in a modern day form and it's really exciting.
Ojig: If you're just tuning in, this is Method to the Madness, a biweekly public affairs show at ALX Berkeley celebrating Bay Area innovators. Today we're talking with Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino of Cafe Ohlone by Makamham, a restaurant serving traditional Oglone foods.
Vincent: We want to be able to just be mindful that this food that we're serving, and we say our food is full of justice as well, because our food, it's connected to helping people better understand that Ohlone people are here, that our culture is strong, that our culture is rooted in this place that we're in right now, and that our people will never leave here.
When people understand that we're here and they understand how rich what we have is and how much we care about these things, and after they're empowered with that truth, then they have no reason to not stand with our people. And so, this is the need to be able to have allies with us, to be able to work for a better future that includes Ohlone people central to the story here in our homeland, and this is why we're doing this work as well.
The primary goal of this has always been to empower our community, not just to have these traditional foods back, but also for the wellness of our people. We know that when the government imposed foods on our people, they were often foods that cause great harm to our health. We believe that when we take out those things that aren't good for our bodies and eat the things that our bodies recognize that our bodies get stronger. When our bodies are stronger, we're more capable of fighting back against the injustices that we face.
We also believe as well that culture is central to keeping our identity strong and that when we have a robust, full culture, with many different things and we are also able to adapt new things in our culture over time, that represents a living identity. That also is able to keep our culture strong and also able to be carried on within these modern times that we're in as well.
Ojig: You touched on a number of aspects of language and culture and violence and healing and repairing. It's just such a rich space. Also, a different kind of space that embodies some of these elements that you value, your vision and the context in which you're innovating.
It includes words and pronunciation of certain words in Chochenyo. You also use Chochenyo phrases and language with diners at the cafe. Why is language so important?
Vincent: Our language first of all has been very, very revived, and we're extremely proud of that revival. It's something that collectively we're excited to see happen and we know our language will never go to sleep again. We never say that it died, but we say it was sleeping, and it was sleeping for about two generations.
With the right effort, our people breathe life into it, and now it's awakened again. Now, it's spoken with fluency. I speak it. People in my community, young people are growing up speaking the language right now, and elders as well.
Louis: Our language in my family was used until at least the mid 1930s, and that might be true also of the Rumsen language in general, but when we work with language documentation to look for information about our languages, those things were recorded in the 1920s and 30s.
There's one woman today in my extended family who heard our language when she was a young girl. She is in her upper 80s now, Gloria Castro is her name. She is my great grandfather's first cousin, and this beautiful woman, she just loves what we are doing because it is exactly what she has wanted to see for a very long time.
In the early 1990s, she visited the language archives here at UC Berkeley. During the first, what became breath of life, and she's always been hungry for that information, for things that she remembered seeing and hearing, but not understanding from her childhood.
The people that she heard using our language were her grandparents and her mother, and her mother never used it after her grandparents passed away. She remembers hearing it at these family times when all of the family would get together for weeks at a time and all of the adults would go into the house and all the children were made to stay outside of the house, and there was a woman who kept watch and made sure the kids didn't get too close.
She does know that they were using our language and that she heard things. She remembers them preparing food in our old style, earth ovens, at the creek side there, which is a very old method of cooking. She remembers being chased out of her grandfather's garden, and this is when she very clearly heard our language, when he yelled at her and her cousins to get out of the garden.
She had this memory for years. She was six years old when he did that, and that's the phrase that she remembers, and she says that she remembers exactly that sequence of sounds because she and her cousins looked at each other and they laughed because they didn't understand what their grandpa was saying. She says that laughter imprinted that memory in her mind, and she's been looking for that expression ever since, and she's always wondered and she's had times when she doubted what she remembers hearing.
But, during the last breath of life, last summer, in the language archive here on campus, we were reading through Alfred Kroeber's notebook from 1902 where he records a relative of ours, [inaudible 00:14:50], and Gloria wanted to read every single line out loud, and so that's what we did. We spent a couple of hours doing that with her. We came across [inaudible 00:14:59], and we just had to stop everything, because Gloria finally found the expression that her grandfather used, and she could hear his voice in her ear, she said.
There it was. It was this confirmation of all of those experiences that she had as a young girl was confirmed and now she knows that he was telling her to get out of there.
Ojig: It took 80 years. it's amazing.
Louis: There were the sounds. These are why our language is so connected to our foods, because those same people who were using our language, were the same people preparing our foods, were the same people who we are sure prayed in our traditional way, who did all of these things and kept all of these things close to themselves, because these things all come together.
When we work to revive our language, it's very organic that that work leads to the revival of all of these things.
Vincent: That's right. One of the powerful things about language, it's able to convey a worldview that's there. Our world view, I feel, is embedded within our language. Helps people who are coming to Cafe Ohlone better understand that this place was never a new world. This place was never a blank slate, but this place has culture, it has language, identity, nations that are here already, has a great food, great diet, great people, all of these great things that are already here.
One of the most harmful things about this narrative that exists that we're trying to change is, it almost seems that anything that's introduced here can just be called Californian. People talk about Californian cuisine, but it's made up of nothing that's California, nothing that's native to this space. Just because there's avocados or something that's seasonal or fresh doesn't mean it's native to California. That doesn't mean it's California and cuisine.
We believe that when people can understand what the true identity of this place specifically is, and I also want to add that what's native to us here in the East Bay isn't native to [inaudible 00:16:51], down south in Los Angeles or other areas, and we're all different here in California. That's one of those beautiful things, but by focusing here on East Bay Ohlone culture, and I'm aware, in Louis' family's area, in [inaudible] Rumsen Ohlone culture, we believe that we can show people the specifics of these things that helps people better understand and respect our identities.
Ojig: What is the website address?
Vincent: The website address, it's makamham.com. We did that intentionally because we believe that people can learn how to say Makamham. It's not that hard. Makamham. It's three sounds, and those sounds, they mean our food. Ohlone people have had to learn a lot of really difficult words over time, and so you know we believe that people can put in a little effort to say [inaudible 00:17:37].
But, then Cafe Ohlone is also there as well. Cafe Ohlone is like the public face of this work. That's also the cafe space that we run over in Berkeley, but the website is makamham.com.
Ojig: On the website you can get information also about the price of brunch, [inaudible 00:00:17:54], lunch and dinner. These prices include much more than just Ohlone food.
Can you walk us through what a diner's experience would be like?
Vincent: We always prepare everything fresh the day that we are going to have our events. We are always cooking with only what's seasonal, what's available to us, and we try to gather as much as we can here in the East Bay. If we can't gather it, we source it. The same ingredients from just a little bit further out. Ideally. Here in California.
We never want people to think that we're just a standard restaurant where people are just going to go and just be able to consume food and walk out without any thought. We're slow at Cafe Ohlone because we want people to understand the intention as well as the purpose of the work that we're doing there. We say we want to elevate people's consciousness to help people better understand what [inaudible] here in the East Bay is, what contemporary Ohlone identity looks like, but also how delicious our foods are.
Like what I was saying previously, we believe that when people are empowered with knowledge about how robust the living Ohlone culture is, that they'll respect us in a different way.
Because of that, every meal that we have, we bring people in, and before anybody pays or before the meal starts, we ask everybody to sit down.
Everybody sits down and we have [inaudible] that are out. They wrap themselves in one. We have all of these beautiful native aesthetics that are out, our baskets, our gaming pieces, the raw ingredients of the plants that we use, the salt that our tribe gathers and native plants and flowers that are on the tables and abalone shells and huge basket pattern that's painted in goat milk on one of our back walls with abalone adornments hanging down.
People just sit there and look at everything. And so, for so many people, it's unfamiliar and new. We understand that that's unfamiliar for a lot of people, but we want also to help people better understand these things without making them feel bad for not knowing these things.
Instead of just pointing fingers and making people feel bad about not knowing these things, we want to be able to help people understand them in a way that's really caring and loving, because to us, those are the things that we grew up with, which is learning to talk about these things with a lot of love and care.
We also believe that when we're preparing these foods and when we're serving them, we only want the best words and intentions to be around them, because in our belief as well, if you're making food and you're in a bad place or you're serving food in a bad place, that's going to come into that food as well.
You leave the drama out at Cafe Ohlone, right? No drama, no problems, and it's just good intentions. When we come back there, it's just celebration about our identity, telling people about why these foods are being eaten, but talking honestly and candidly about the fact that these foods weren't in our family's lives for a couple of generations because of our history, because colonization. Not because our people didn't care about these things, but because of the abuses that our people had to endure. Needlessly endure.
As people understand these things, then we introduce the ingredients. We talk about, we try to change the narrative of how people understand our culture, because we talk about our history honestly but then we talk after that about our survival and the fact that we can have these things again, that we can be able to keep these things going, which shows triumph, which shows victory.
That's what we want people to understand, is to associate our culture less and less with tragedy, but more and more with victory. We want people to look at Ohlone people and to say, "Those people are strong. They survived all of that and they're still doing this, they're still in their place, they're still eating these foods. They're still speaking their language."
When people understand that, they view us in a different way. After that, we say a prayer, and we always make a plate at every meal that we have for our ancestors. We do this intentionally, and this is something that when we make these foods we do at home as well, because these foods, we're only able to know them because of our ancestors. We're only able to have these things in our life because of the strength that those people before us.
Before we eat anything, we all pray. I'll share a prayer, Louis shares a prayer in Rumsen, and me in Chochenyo, and we pray to what these foods represent, and that starts off, this meal, this experience, on a note that this is different.
When you slow down, then you can really taste these first flavors of the East Bay. We always ask that elders come up first, because that's something that we value in our culture. After we eat and we have music, contemporary indigenous music that's there, we answer questions. Then, usually, we'll bring out some traditional games, and we'll play some games and then at the end of the events, we'll always have a call to action.
Ojig: What are some of the ingredients in the Ohlone foods you're serving?
Vincent: We're always making seasonal dishes, and so right now we're cooking a lot with mushrooms, because mushrooms are in heavy abundance as well as hazelnuts, which the season just recently ended as well at winter time.
Right now, we're also with the earliest growths of the native greens that are coming up. We've been gathering those. And so, I'll just walk you through a few of our foods just based on seasons. Right now, for an example, we're having these delicious, delicious, delicious mushroom hazelnut muffins, where we get black trumpet mushrooms and candy cap mushrooms and [inaudible 00:23:16], and we saute those with bay laurel that we gather up in our village sites and in walnut oil and pickle weed from the East Bay shoreline. The salty succulent that we chop up, then our tribe gathers the salt from those old salt ponds that our ancestors, the same exact salt areas that our people have always gathered salt from.
We still go out there with digging sticks and chisel away at that salt and we add that to that mushroom mixture. We grind down the California hazelnuts and make a hazelnut flour, and then we bake that hazelnut flour with some dried porcini, [inaudible] base salts. We add those mushrooms, cook one of those edible flowers that are coming up right now on top of it, bake that. Serve that with an all native green salad of watercress and Indian lettuce that's coming up right now after the heavy rains, with that base salt and gooseberries, blackberries. A dressing of walnut oil and bay laurel, popped [inaudible] seeds and pinon nuts, roasted hazelnuts that we roast every morning before we have our events.
We'll have a vanilla chia seed porridge with blackberry sauce and hazelnuts that we crush a mortar right in front of the people who are dining, and we'll usually have like something like an acorn bread as well. A traditional bread that is one of our most traditional foods. A bread that's made out of the acorn soup that gets cooked down and has this crisp outside and this sweet jelly like pudding inside.
We'll have smoked venison and mushroom skewers, there's a hunter who hunts up a just a little bit north of here in the Pomo area, and often will be gifted venison. We'll butcher that and smoke it for hours and hours until it's soft and just has all of those wonderful smoke taste from the Oakwood.
We add the bay wood as we're smoking it, and we'll smoke the mushroom skewers as well, that's something that we've been doing recently and salmon that's smoked from Enterprise Rrancheria that's gifted to us.
All of these foods are flavors our ancestors would recognize, and I quickly would like to say, just in our language what these foods are so you understand that we have words. We have [foreign language 00:25:20] in the Rumsen language, [foreign language 00:25:22], the deer meatballs, [foreign language 00:25:26], the blackberry sauce. [foreign language 00:25:28], the acorn flatbread. There's [foreign language 00:25:31], the mushrooms, [foreign language 00:25:34], the popped [foreign language 00:25:35] seeds. [foreign language 00:25:37], the berries and the nuts. [foreign language 00:25:43], that's mushroom soup cow. [foreign language 00:25:44], that's bitter greens with flowers, popped [foreign language 00:25:54] seeds and berries. [foreign language 00:25:57] quail eggs. [foreign language 00:25:59], sweet acorn. [foreign language 00:26:03], the sweet a seed cakes.
These are foods our ancestors recognize, and when we eat these foods we commune with them.
Ojig: Since the Ohlone are the original peoples of the land on which the cafe is located, I would hope that you're being embraced and supported by Berkeley and East Bay communities.
How are folks responding?
Vincent: Extraordinarily. Yes, we're ecstatic to see the response from the community and it also gives us a lot of hope to what's possible. 10 years ago, this wouldn't have been thinkable.
Ojig: Moving forward, what would you like to inspire with Cafe Ohlone?
Vincent: Well, we know it will keep going, but we would like to see it expand as well. Can you imagine having, we have all of these beautiful place names all around the Bay Area and all around the East Bay that are Oakland, it's [foreign language 00:26:48], and if you want to go over to to where we live at, it's hulking. If you can imagine [foreign language 00:26:53], [foreign language 00:26:53] and [foreign language 00:26:54], [foreign language 00:26:56] in San Jose that are run by our tribal people, it would be such an exciting thing.
That's a big dream. One of the things I always imagine, and Louis and I talk about this a lot, is getting one of those old warehouses over in West Oakland or Emeryville, making that a cultural space for our people, but also having a large restaurant space there as well a few days a week for the public, but also making that like an urban rancher here as well for our people. Having a space where we can go and have language lessons, have basketry, have all these things that our people want to see in our world, but we always want to keep that small space that we have in the back because it represents a lot for us as well.
Ojig: I want to ask also, food sovereignty seems to be a large part of your space. Can you elaborate on your role in this movement and what you'd like to see moving forward with the food sovereignty movement?
Vincent: I'm a member of the [inaudible] Ohlone tribe and also a councilman representing my family's lineage and our tribal government as well, and this work that we're doing with Makamham and with Cafe Ohlone, it's very much connected on a larger scale. It's specific to us and we're doing this work for our people, but there's also a larger movement that's happening here, which is touching on many other indigenous communities, which is about decolonization, but also returning back to our traditional foods.
Louis and I, we're a part of this organization called Slow Foods Turtle Island, which works on an international level with other indigenous people to protect our food sovereignty and also working with agencies at the United Nations and with Slow Foods international.
It's really powerful, because there's challenges that we have to be able to gather these foods. We hope that we will be able to see our people though, our Ohlone people, specific here in the East Bay [inaudible] Ohlone people, be able to have more access to gathering, be able to have more access to going into those areas and gathering our foods without restrictions, because right now there are still numerous restrictions that exist against our people for gathering.
Ojig: How can folks get more information about your important work on the cafe?
Vincent: Our primary way of communicating our messages is through our Instagram, @makamham. Our Instagram, we specifically have chosen just because of we like to be able to share beautiful photos of our food and the work that we're doing. Instagram has just been a really clear platform for us. We're also on Twitter at @makamham, and our website address, once again, it's makamham.com. All of the information about our work and also our hours are listed there.
Ojig: Thank you Louis and Vincent for talking with us today and for your work.
Vincent: Thank you, [inaudible 00:29:32].
Ojig: You've been listening to Method to the Madness, a biweekly public affairs show on KALX Berkeley, celebrating Bay Area innovators. You can find all of our podcasts on iTunes University.
Thanks for tuning in. We'll be back again in two weeks.