Chef George Lenser| Image source: concordia.ca We all love our mothers…right? Many of them inspire us to be the best we can be and nudge us in the right direction. Or, in the case of George Lenser, “trick” him into going in the right direction. In an interview with CBC Montréal earlier this year, Lenser said the reason why he took on his first cooking job was to pay for his ticket back home for a summer visit with her. She originally promised to pay for his ticket back but over the summer those plans changed. Sadly, two years after finding his passion his mother passed away. But it was that first nudge that led him into a career as an emerging chef with ambitions to open up his own business.
Fast forward 9 years and Lenser is now heading kitchen operations for the 27th annual Montréal First Peoples’ Festival. Lenser met up with Erica Commanda from MUSKRAT Magazine before the festival to talk candidly about his career ambitions and why it’s important to create more Indigenous representation everywhere.
MM: You will be managing the kitchen for the First People’s Festival in Montréal early August. What can people expect to taste?
GL: The numbers are so high, so I’m kind of limited to what I can do. I’m trying to make good food that I can sling out very quickly. I’m just going to amp it up a little bit, but at the same time hammer food out for thousands of people, at least over two thousand. [The festival organizers] already got a cool concept going on where they want people to feel like they’re at a campfire with 3 bonfires and deer hot dogs on the menu.
MM: You grew up on the West Coast and have been working as a chef in Montréal for a couple of years now. What inspired you to pursue a career in culinary arts so far away from home?
GL: It just happened. I was working in a cafes, diners and pubs in Vancouver and knew I wanted to go above that. I wanted to learn a lot more. I knew I was just a big fish in a little pond there and needed to go check out what was it like in the big leagues. Soon after, I got in for a working interview at Joe Beef in Montréal and jumped on it. They said come by and try out, if we like you maybe we will hire you. I persisted and showed up everyday until they hired me.
MM: Montréal is lacking an Indigenous food scene and you want to change that by opening up your own restaurant. Why is it important to create a growth in Indigenous cuisine?
GL: I think it’s important to have a growth for everything, not just Indigenous cuisine but for Indigenous culture. There’s a lack of representation for Indigenous people everywhere, whether it’s music, acting, culinary, or whatever else. It’s pretty fucking racist. It’s funny cause you see so many restaurants that say they cook pure Canadian food or pure American food.
MM: They mean white Canadian.
GL: Yes. It’s like the place called Bannock on Queen Street [in Toronto], which is owned by some white Scottish dude, who is all about cooking “unapologetically Canadian food.” Why are you unapologetic about this? Just hearing about these restaurants is both annoying and frustrating.
MM: If you do open a restaurant what kind of concept do you envision creating? Will it be more casual or high end? Why?
GL: It would definitely […]
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