The Queue: Neftalí Durán

The Queue: Neftalí Durán

Discover what individuals from our craft community are into right now.

Published on Sunday, May 24, 2020.
Neftali Duran instructing someone on cooking with a clay comal

↑ Chef, advocate, and educator Neftalí Durán (right) is interested in reclaiming the traditional foodways of the original peoples of the Americas.
Photo: Courtesy of Neftalí Durán


The Queue: Kitchen Table Series

A weekly roundup for and by the craft community, the Kitchen Table series of The Queue introduces you to the makers, writers, curators, and more featured in the most recent issue of American Craft. We invite them to share their shortlist of exciting projects, people to follow, and content to consume to help you stay dialed into what's hot in the world of making.

Neftalí Durán on growing food for self care, art as a catalyst for change, and more

Chef, advocate, and educator Neftalí Durán contributed a Kitchen Heirloom Object Story to the June/July 2020 issue of American Craft. He is the founder of I-Collective, an autonomous group of Indigenous chefs, activists, herbalists, and seed and knowledge keepers. @neftaliduran_ @icollective2019_

Neftalí Durán speaking

Photo: Courtesy of Neftalí Durán

How would you describe your work or practice in 50 words or less?
I am a community cook who used to cook and bake professionally. I am a teacher, organizer, and avid forager, and am trying to become a farmer. I'm based in Holyoke, Massachusetts, but am originally from the beating heart of the continent – Oaxaca. I believe there is nothing more “american” than tacos.

How are you staying healthy and finding balance during the COVID-19 breakout, both personally and professionally?
I am cooking for myself everyday, which is genuinely nourishing and one part of self care that we should practice more. I've also been trying to hike and forage as often as I can. Farming on the weekends keeps my body tired, my mind sharp, and my mental demons at bay – so far.

Food cooking on a clay comal

↑ In his Kitchen Heirloom Object Story, Neftalí explores the deeper significance of cooking with a clay comal.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between craft and food?
I agree that cooking and farming are crafts, as opposed to art forms. In my experience, you have to work year after year to gain understanding and mastery of a craft. It's something you can only achieve by doing the same thing thousands of times. Whether you're washing dishes or cooking on the restaurant line, the craft of food is a full-body experience, and only a portion of it involves creativity. To be a great cook is to understand the relationship between creativity, taste, food memory, and pure muscle repetition.

If you were stranded on a deserted island and only had one tool from your practice, what would it be, and why?
I would choose a short machete (as opposed to a chef's knife). It's versatile enough that you can chiffonade herbs, gut and clean a fish, or chop down a tree. And besides, machetes are a symbol of self-sufficiency and the chosen tool of a peasant rebellion.

What’s your favorite social media post you’ve seen recently?
The solidarity shown by Ernesto Yerena with the undocumented indigenous communities really shows us that art can be a catalyst for change in real time, especially when so many artists are inspired by the richness of Oaxaca and yet do very little to advocate for the Oaxaqueño Indigenous migrant community.

What podcast should we be listening to right now, and why?
Death, Sex & Money is a favorite. It has destigmatize money for me and helped me start working on getting rid of debt. Code Switch and Snap Judgement are also must-listen-tos.

What book should we be reading or paying attention to right now?
If you want to start to understand the rebranding of white supremacy into white nationalism, listen to Rising Out of Hatred. This book gave me a small glimpse into understanding what is going on in this country.

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