Elements Indigenous dinner, hosted at Nk’Mip Cellars winery. Mia Stainsby I’m humbled chatting with Indigenous chef and former Top Chef Canada contender Rich Francis about reconciliation through sharing and connecting with Indigenous food. To me, it sounds more like acts of forgiveness.
Francis “cooks for reconciliation” in pop-ups and dinners across the country, has a TV show called Red Chef Revival and is writing a cookbook/memoir called Closing The Gap: Truth And Reconciliation Through Indigenous Foods.
“It’s connecting through food, making you more familiar with where we come from,” he says. “It has a way of healing our relationship with Canada, with other First Nations people, as well as generational trauma. It’s a culinary identity outside of cultural genocide. In a sense, we’re taking back Canadian ingredients, rediscovering them to reinvent with it.”
I tasted forgiveness at an Indigenous dinner on Osoyoos Indian Band land in Osoyoos. There’s a lot happening for visitors on their 32,000 acre reserve: designer digs at Spirit Ridge Resort (now managed through Unbound Collection by Hyatt), cultural history at the award-winning Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, a golf course, award-winning wines at Nk’Mip Cellars (the first Aboriginal winery in North America) and starting this summer, special event Indigenous dinners. Welcoming sculpture at Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre in Osyoos, on Osoyoos Indian Band land. [PNG Merlin Archive] Chef Francis cooked at the inaugural feast on June 9, a long table dinner honouring the Four Food Chiefs (more on that later) with teepees, fire pit and modern Indigenous food. Pine cones, juniper boughs (a traditional medicine) muskrat pelt (used for clothing), antlers (used for tools) and Hudson’s Bay blankets (a symbol of early trade goods) dressed the table with symbols from history.
The dinner I attended was another, on National Aboriginal Day on June 21. The al fresco Elements dinner on the Nk’Mip Cellars patio was perched above the vineyards and Lake Osoyoos. Canadian Indigenous chefs Joseph Shawana, of Ku-kum Kitchen in Toronto, and Shane Chartrand, of Sage restaurant at River Cree Resort near Edmonton, cooked an amazing five-course meal along with winery chef Orlin Godfrey.
It hasn’t been an easy culinary journey for Indigenous chefs. Colonization and residential schools battered the heart and soul of Indigenous culture and left many families broken. Chartrand, for example, lived in six foster homes in five years until he was adopted by a Metis father and Mi’kmaq mother; he learned some traditions like fishing, hunting and a spiritualized respect for food.
Dyawen Louis, an interpretive guide at Nk’Mip Cultural Centre, said when his grandparents were put in residential schools, traditions were lost. But he’s reclaiming some of them. “I’ve been going to hunting camps our nation holds. We learn how to hunt properly and respectfully and provide food for families who need it. I can bring back a deer now.” Okanagan Nation (the seven-band Syilx People) have also been working to restore and sustain salmon in the region.
Adds Francis: “Colonialism changed our diet and introduced things like white sugar and diabetes. But my roots are not lost, they’re just forgotten. It’s in our food DNA, our memories. We have to find it again and respect and honour food.”
At the Elements dinner, with earth, air, fire and water as muses, ancient ingredients were cooked in modern ways. An appetizer dish combined all those elements.
Shawana made a spruce and cedar tea sorbet and charred sockeye salmon with birch syrup and elderberry gastrique (representing water and fire). Chartrand translated earth and air into pheasant breast, burnt corn succotash, onion cream and fried kelp and a rabbit boudin with moss berries, black garlic, portobello duxelles and reindeer moss. Seared bison […]
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