Bistro Makes Aboriginal Food with a Modern Twist
(VANCOUVER) – “Aboriginal food is in,” laughs Inez Cook. “We’re the new black!”
Cook is referring to the First Nations restaurant she co-owns with business partner Remi Caudron in Vancouver – the Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro.
This tiny, 30-seat eatery on West Broadway specializes in Aboriginal cuisine made modern, and has been on a path of steady growth since it opened during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
“We thought it would be a good idea to open then,” says Cook grinning. “Except we didn’t realize there was no stopping on Broadway during the Games. But, it was a blessing in disguise, because we were really not ready, and had a lot to learn.”
Neither Caudron nor Cook had owned a restaurant before; they met at Air Canada where they are both still employed as flight attendants.
“Visiting a friend in Kelowna, I noticed they had a Native restaurant there and we don’t have one in Vancouver any longer,” says Cook, herself born of a First Nations mother. “ I thought, are you kidding me? That’s ridiculous!” she says laughing.
The bistro’s staff are all Aboriginal, and the owners find that there is a bigger interest from the public, when it comes to knowing where their food comes from. “First Nations people have always eaten the 100-mile diet,” says Cook.
With its vibrant red-painted walls, and framed aboriginal art for sale, the restaurant is cozy and warm, and serves up specialties like salmon mousse, a killer bison burger, deer stew, Indian tacos, which are “kind of like a sloppy Joe on bannock” Cook tells me. The charcuterie served is super-lean and delicious, like the bison prosciutto, or the air-dried arctic muskox served with an earthy cedar jelly and bannock crackers.
The bannock gets a healthy twist – the bistro serves it baked, rather than fried, and lightly buttered with a dollop of Saskatoon berry jam – heaven.
“The secret to great bannock is not to over-handle it, or it gets tough” Cook explains. Sounds similar to the trick behind my own mothers’ melt-in-your-mouth shortbread.
Flaky, delicate and subtle smoked salmon placed over a salad of wild greens and dill dressing is just one delicious dish served at Vancouver’s only Native restaurant. Photo by Catherine Dunwoody
A year and a half ago, the owners hired a new chef, Richard. The second day on the job, he sat down with Cook to share some interesting news. They were second cousins. The owners took it as sign…
Chef Richard showed me into the bistro’s tiny kitchen, and walked me through the process of making their house-smoked salmon. Little foil “canoes” were made, filled with cedar chips, and then topped with soaked apple wood chips. Torched until they started to smoke, then placed in a chafing dish with Sterno pots underneath, the salmon was then placed on a hole-punched pan, put on top and covered. Three-hours later? Smoked salmon – flaky and delicate and subtle, when placed over a salad of wild greens and dill dressing.
The wine and beer list is B.C.-centric, and the only wines served are from the Nk’Mip winery in Osoyoos, B.C. Spirit Bear coffee is the brew of choice, and the menu features seasonal fruit pies and bread pudding for dessert.
The busy restaurant is kept even busier catering events and weddings, and the “feast menus” for groups of six or more, make for an exceptional night out.
A gift shop on site sells pashminas made by local artists, cell phone holders, ceramic travel cups, throws, blankets, coasters, even baby shoes, all with Aboriginal art and nods to the heritage.
A definite must-visit when in Vancouver.
If you are interested in learning how you can taste traditional or contemporary Aboriginal cuisine, click here to find an Aboriginal owned restaurant or café.