HIDDEN GEMS, WYOMING’S BEST EATS: Chef Melds Indigenous Dishes Into Culinary Crossroads at Lander Casino
- Published In: Hidden Gems: Wyoming's Best Eats
- Last Updated: Sep 05, 2023
Chef Michael Chingman puts the finishing touches on the daily special, a smoked birria Indian taco, at Deka-Guy Hee in the Shoshone Rose Casino & Hotel in Lander. (Wyoming Truth photo by Samuel Gilbert)
By Samuel Gilbert
Special to the Wyoming Truth
LANDER, Wyo.—Some delicious and surprising food is coming from the kitchen of Deka-Guy Hee at the Shoshone Rose Casino & Hotel. Executive chef Michael Chingman is going beyond traditional casino fare, pushing out daily specials of carne asada street ramen ($12), mac and cheese with smoked pulled pork ($12) and “Goatsup,” a traditional Shoshone chokecherry gravy served alongside made-to-order frybread on Sunday brunch.
“I’ve always loved to cook for people,” said Chingman, 48, speaking inside the circular dining room of Deka-Guy Hee, which is Shoshone for “the eating house.”
The self-taught Shoshone and Arapaho chef took over the dining operation at Deka-Guy Hee six months ago, and in that time, he has infused the menu with his passion for American street food, Latino cuisine and Southern fare.
“We’re exploring different ideas and smoking many of our meats for our specials,” said Chingman, motioning to a barrel smoker located on the south side of the restaurant. The high walls of the casual dining area of Deka-Guy Hee are decorated with historical photos depicting life on the Wind River Reservation, along with work from local artists.
I arrived at Deka-Guy Hee to the aroma of Birria, a traditional Mexican stew of goat or beef (in this case beef) slow cooked with dried chiles, garlic, onions and spices. The tender meat is often made into a cheesy “birria taco,” dipped in the savory, spicy, slightly sweet birria consommé.
Chingman put his own twist on the dish by smoking a piece of chuck roast for five hours before adding the meat to a slow cooker with the other ingredients – including a healthy amount of guajillo, pasilla and California chiles – to slow cook for another 12 hours.
Instead of a tortilla, Chingman cooked a large piece of frybread, which he then submerged in the birria consommé, turning the golden-brown dough a light reddish orange. The frybread was topped with the smoked slow-cooked beef, piled high with melting Mexican cheese and finished with onion, cilantro and crema.
Served with a ramekin of maroon-colored consommé for dipping and fresh limes to cut through the cheesy, meaty-fried goodness, the “Smoked Birria Indian Taco” special ($14) is pure decadence. The fluffy fried bread makes the perfect vessel to soak up the birria juices.
“It’s all in the frybread,” said Chingman, who relies on co-worker Lester Lone Bear to make the fresh dough daily. “If I make it, it turns into a cracker.”
Frybread is a Native American culinary staple. The recipe was born out of colonization and displacement when Indigenous people were forced from their lands and given meager government rations of white flour, sugar, salt and lard, which was made into dough and cooked. Nearly 150 years later, frybread remains part of the culture and cuisine of tribal nations throughout the country.
Frybread is the vehicle for many of Chingman’s labor-intensive creations emerging from the smoker at Deka-Guy Hee. He uses charcoal and wood, rather than pellets, because “you can taste the difference.”
Chingman started smoking meat from his home in Fort Washakie in 2019. During the pandemic, he opened Chingy’s Smoke & Grub food stand on the Wind River Reservation, but now caters events on his days off.
Many of the barbeque recipes have been incorporated into the menu at Deka-Guy Hee. Past specials include white cheddar mac and cheese with smoked pulled pork ($12), smoked brisket nachos ($12) and other smoked meats often piled atop a piece of frybread.
The street barbacoa taco special ($14) – the recipe is from Chingman’s friend’s grandmother in El Paso – is a crowd favorite, served with a side of Mexican elote (grilled Mexican street corn), fideo (Mexican soup with thin toasted spaghetti in tomato-based broth) and lime fresca.
Chingman’s cooking is gaining notoriety. In August, he was named one of two celebrity chefs at the annual Rendezvous City Beef Roundup in Riverton, a festival that brings together cattle ranchers, producers and consumers from throughout the United States to celebrate beef.
This month, Deka-Guy Hee will release its new menu. Chingman and co-manager Viney Greybull plan to incorporate more local ingredients, including buffalo, catch of the day (such as rainbow trout and walleye) and eventually elk and deer sourced from the reservation.
Daily specials will continue to evolve along with Chingman’s taste. In the months to come, he will add more comfort food and expand the Southern and Latino cuisine he so enjoys cooking.
Said Chingman: “The menu possibilities are endless.”
Deka-Guy Hee, 5690 US-287, Lander, Wyoming; (307) 206-7040. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Sunday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; open Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.