One of Canada’s top chefs was in Maskwacis to showcase a new way to look at Indigenous food plus help Indigenous people revive familiar traditions.
Rich Francis — who ended up third in the Top Chef Canada reality cooking television show in 2014 and comes from Six Nations, Ont. — was at the Nipsis Cafe on Jan. 15 to film the second of a six-part television documentary called Red Chef Revival.
The show, set for release some time in 2018, is something Francis hopes will demonstrate modernized Indigenous cuisine from across the country, while also salvaging recipes and foods that are being lost.
“It’s a concept me and Black Rhino Creative (a B.C. film production firm) put together while doing a production for Aboriginal Tourism B.C.,” he said while cooking a special dinner for the episode with Nipsis Cafe owners Matthew and Kevin Crane.
“It’s a look at reviving the traditional recipes, products and stuff around the food from the area and rediscovering it. But in order to reinvent something, you have to rediscover it, so that’s what we are doing right now.
“It’s also about pulling stories together by going to the people and getting their stores — some good, some not so good — with a positive focus on the food, using it as a vehicle to healing, to reconciling, to moving forward. It’s also so we can take a look at issues like obesity, diabetes and different food systems in schools.”
Francis noted that bannock, stew and powwows are among the first thoughts that come to mind when one speaks about Indigenous food. His hope is to change that colonial way of thinking and reveal the true traditional foods, then make something new.
“I want to revive some of the stuff that was taken away from us. Can we give it some new life, use it to reconcile, to create something brand new?” he asked, adding the menu for the dinner included a wild rice moose nose ragù style dish.
“The Indigenous kitchen is unique and these dishes (here) I’ve never done before. I’m just tapping into what’s available.”
And the shoot is also a chance for Francis to impart some his knowledge on the Nipsis Cafe cooks and owners Matthew and Kevin Crane, who are eating up everything Francis can show them.
“They can’t fathom what is going on, it’s blowing their minds. But the building blocks are there, they are making the connections and you can see the enthusiasm,” he said.
“There is something in them that recognizes it, even though they’ve never seen it before. They’ve only even seen moose nose prepped in a fire, but now they are pressure cooking it. That’s reconciliation, that’s food pathways, that’s their food DNA.”
For Francis, the show is just another step in his culinary journey. He has started a catering firm focusing on indigenous cuisine in Saskatoon, will be releasing a cookbook later this year and is hoping to open his first restaurant — also in Saskatoon — some time soon.
“I’m a native guy that just went for it. I have a lot of gratitude for the Top Chef franchise as it really helped put Indigenous cuisine on a level it had never been,” he stated.
“But now we’re finding our culinary identity and more about ourselves, though there is so much more attached to indigenous cooking and that’s the message I hope will take off.”