Osage tribal member Debra Lookout took the top prize in this year’s National Indian Taco Championship for the second time in four years. It’s a moment that is literally a dream come true.
Lookout, whose Indian taco dish was voted best out of 13 entries during the May 15 event in Pawhuska, won $1,500 for her win and said one of her children shared a recent dream that Lookout won the contest.
“My daughter said she had a dream that I won last week,” Lookout said as she shook hands and hugged passers-by who congratulated her after the contest winners were announced. “I knew I had competition this year, so I practiced, I used different types of seasonings and cheeses.”
This year’s runners-up are fellow Osage Brian Lookout, who runs a catering business and took second place, and last year’s top winner Ramona Horsechief (Pawnee/ Cherokee), a caterer who also provides ministry service, won third.
For her Indian taco dish this year, Lookout practiced by using several seasonings in the taco ground beef and even cooked her beans a few nights in advance so they would be creamy. “I try to use the leanest type of meat,” added Lookout, who is a nurse with the Osage Nation Diabetes Program.
Lookout started sharpening her culinary skills as a child because she cooked for her siblings while her mother worked late. “I’ve been cooking since I was nine. My mom worked several jobs” to support the family, she said.
Lookout’s father also supported her growing culinary skills by taking her to bookstores where she bought cookbooks.
In 2007, Lookout took first place in the competition. She also took second place in 2005, and her dessert taco plate won second and her traditional Indian taco plate won third in last year’s competition.
2010 marks the sixth year of the National Indian Taco Championship. Amid cloudy skies with the threat of rain looming that day, several hundred people attended the event held on Kihekah Avenue in front of the Triangle Building where the competition’s 13 entrants set up booths to cook and sell their Indian taco dishes to the public and judges of the competition.
Each contest entrant cooked and prepared several of their taco dishes for the judges to sample and critique. Members of the public were invited to participate as judges after paying a $5 fee in which they sampled taco dishes from each entrant.
The dishes were judged on presentation and overall taco, said Mary Jane Mashunkashey, who was in charge of making the judging arrangements. This year’s competition only judged traditional Indian tacos and did not have a dessert taco category.
The final round of judging, which determined this year’s results featured a local celebrity panel comprised of county and tribal government officials, those seeking election this year, and business leaders, including Osage Nation Assistant Principal Chief John Red Eagle, Congresswoman Jerri Jean Branstetter and Congressional candidate John Free and Assistant Principal Chief candidate Scott BigHorse.
This year, “all of the finalists were very close – within three points of each other,” Mashunkashey said calling the winners this year a “difficult decision” for the judges.
Brian Lookout said he was “pleased and very happy” with the results and won $1,000. He credited the help he received from his volunteer workers that day because they worked with him in 2008 when he won first place.
Lookout runs Ah-Tha-Tse Catering and prepares food and hors d’oeuvres for various special events.
“We’ll try again next year,” Ramona Horsechief said after winning $500 for her Indian taco dish. “Either way, I won,” she said of this year’s taco covered in chili with buffalo meat, ground sausage and ground beef.
Horsechief and her husband work with One Spirit Praise, a Native American Christian music ministry and she provides food for the events. Horsechief, who has more than 20 years of cooking and culinary school experience, said her group visits with all groups of people, including those attending rehabilitation and serving time in prison or juvenile centers.
Several people immediately lined up at Debra Lookout’s food stand after the results were read. Lookout said she and her work crew battled a frenzy in setting up their food stand that day and she got little sleep the night before.
“It was unorganized, but as the day went on, it evened out,” Lookout said. “We were just blessed – I couldn’t do this without my daughters.
I told my daughters if I won, I’d get them a trampoline and a dog,” said Lookout, “And something for myself.”
Next year’s National Indian Taco Championship is slated for the third weekend in May in Pawhuska.