Dek: The non-profit community outreach catering organization based in Wisconsin prepares ancestral foods to strengthen Indigenous communities while preserving flavors.
Elena Terry is the Executive Chef/Founder of Wild Bearies, a non-profit catering organization that supports those who are overcoming alcohol and other drug abuse issues or emotional traumas.
After working in the restaurant industry for over ten years she decided to merge her love of traditional cooking with community building to bring ancestral foods to communities in a nurturing and nourishing way.
Today, she can be found helping people start meaningful conversations at the table through a number of programs that teach people to prepare traditional Indigenous cuisine and preserve these flavors for generations to come.
“Our program uses food as a vessel for healing for wellness for really supporting each other and focuses on the conversations that happen at the table and the camaraderie and the friendships and relationships that are built there… For us, it’s the process. It’s preparing this food, it’s having these conversations, the work that is being done here, and preserving our ancestors and bringing them back to our community,” says Elena to the group sampling a three-meal course she has prepared.
She begins by serving the wild salad, which is composed of vegetables sourced locally from a nearby farm in Madison, WI. It is a colorful combination of roasted squash, candied corn, wild rice, cranberries, and fresh greens topped with a cranberry vinaigrette.
“So with every component, I want you to think about all of the care and the attention that went into that part of this holistic wellness that we’re talking about and really making change not only in our community but in the greater communities that we reside in,” says Elena.
In November of 2022, the non-profit organization was featured in the American Food History Project’s Cooking Up History at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. Elena and her daughter Zoe Fess prepared their signature dish Seedy SassSquash in front of a live audience for a project that has welcomed nearly 100 guest chefs to showcase their heritage through cultural cuisine since it began in 2015, reports Civil Eats.
She ends the meal by serving a dessert that truly brings home the nonprofit’s mission: a squash tart. A base composed of sweet bean puree made from Gump beans that were grown on-site at the farm, buttercup squash from the Menominee Nation University, and a sweet corn cake also made from corn grown on the farm – all topped with a cranberry sauce and a wild rice marshmallow made from hand-harvested wild rice from northern Minnesota.