Putting Aboriginal Cuisine on the Map

Posted on April 9, 2015
  • 1 of 3  Chef Stacey Jones
  • Co-owner Inez Cook2 of 3  Co-owner Inez Cook
  • Salmon n' Bannock Game Sampler3 of 3  Salmon n' Bannock Game Sampler

A behind the scenes interview with Toque and Canoe Editor-in-chief: Kim Gray (Photo Credit: Suzanne Ahearne)

Aboriginal Tourism BC recently partnered with nationally award-winning Toque & Canoe – an online magazine and blog about Canadian travel culture. Editor-in-chief Kim Gray will be producing several stories in an arms-length collaboration with us over the course of this year. Her first story showcases the growing trend of Aboriginal-inspired cuisine throughout Canada. We sat down with her to get an insider’s perspective for the making of “Tasting Turtle Island – Aboriginal Cuisine goes Mainstream”.

Aboriginal Tourism BC: Let’s start with Vancouver bistro Salmon n’ Bannock. We hear you recently ate there.

Kim: You bet I did. I was with my mom, who had flown from Kelowna to Vancouver to meet me. I was in town because my daughter had a skating competition. I called up Inez Cook, the bistro’s co-owner, and even though it was the final weekend of Vancouver’s Dine Out Festival and the restaurant was booked solid, she found us a table. She knew I was keen to experience the restaurant. (Thanks Inez!)

Aboriginal Tourism BC: What did you think of it?

Kim: The first thing that comes to mind was just how warm and welcoming everyone was, from Inez’s business partner Remi Caudron to our lovely server to the hard-working chefs in the kitchen. I ordered a seafood medley and wild rice dish that I’m still dreaming about. My mom tried the elk medallions with elderberry sauce which she says were delicious. And we both really enjoyed the “Indian ice cream”—a whipped soapberry palate cleanser served between courses. No surprise that the restaurant won “Best Dining Experience” at the 2015 Dine Out Festival.

Aboriginal Tourism BC: Tell us what you learned during your research about Canada’s Aboriginal culinary scene.

Kim: I was reminded yet again of why I love my work. You get an opportunity to experience something, to dive in and really swim around in it. My story is only a snapshot, really, of what’s happening around the country but my sense is that several books could be written about the subject (in fact, I know several are!). In short, a handful of high-profile Aboriginal chefs are out there taking “pre-European contact” foods to new heights. What they’re finding is that not only is their own community enthusiastic about what they’re up to, but society in general has a huge appetite for it.

Aboriginal Tourism BC: Who did you talk to in the course of your research?

Kim: Of course, I interviewed Salmon n’ Bannock’s Inez Cook—who has a compelling personal story. She was adopted but recently made contact with her biological family in Bella Coola’s Nuxalk community. She’s keen to showcase Aboriginal culture in a positive light. “Our staff work with such pride,” she told me of her employees who all have First Nations backgrounds. “Guests are happy to hear our stories. Every one of us has a story.”

I also interviewed Ben Genaille, a Cree from Manitoba who currently works as the food and beverage director at Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort and Spa in Osoyoos, BC. Ben has managed the Aboriginal culinary team for Canada in the Culinary Olympics twice. This is the biggest culinary exhibition in the world, held every four years in Germany. He hopes to return for 2016.

Several people I spoke with finished our interviews with “Have you talked to Ben, yet? You need to talk to Ben.” He’s an important part of this story.

I also interviewed, among others, Top Chef Canada’s Rich Francis—a Gwich’in from the Northwest Territories who now lives on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario. He was a recent finalist in Top Chef Canada and, given his profile, Rich can probably be credited for catapulting the notion of modern indigenous cuisine into the mainstream.

Aboriginal Tourism BC: Final impressions from your latest adventure?

Kim: The people I spoke with are seriously passionate about what they’re doing and they each have really fascinating stories to tell. Salmon n’ Bannock Sous Chef Ryan Lalonde, who is First Nations but was raised in foster care, hopes that what’s happening in the aboriginal food scene transcends race. “We are all people of this earth. This is what we’re supposed to be doing. Head-to-tail cooking, not being wasteful and being connected with the ingredients we’re using. Good, healthy food is a human right.”

There’s something quite profound happening around the country right now. It’s beyond exciting. Some stories climb inside you, make you curious and shift your perspective. Researching First Nations food trends definitely had that affect on me. I’m hungry to learn more.

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