Have you ever been asked to name a classic “Canadian” food? If so you will probably end up jumping on the poutine bandwagon, or half heatedly suggesting a butter tart, anything with maple syrup, a beaver tail, tortiere or molasses bread, or a Canadian re-invention of a traditional European dish that has been acclimatized by generations, influenced by local fare and adapted to fit the Canadian disposition.
Of course there is a cuisine that has been a part of this land for much, much longer, one that is finally getting its share of recognition and garnering unprecedented acclaim by the food cognoscenti; traditional Native Cuisine. Chefs like Aaron Joseph Bear Robe and his miraculous little Keriwa Café successfully married traditional native fare with high end flair and introduced thousands of Toronto diners to an amazing new world of regionally sourced cuisine that was at once rustic and sublime, local and exotic.
Alas, the Keriwa Café closed in October, never having recovered from the devastating damage sustained by the flood this summer. We wish Chef Bear Robe all the best in his new endeavours.
In the meantime, we are happy to have a copy of Andrew George Jr.’s lovely little book, Modern Native Feasts and are excited to have a go at the elegant and contemporary dishes contained within; recipes that, as the back cover proclaims, “reflect the diverse new culinary landscape while being mindful of an ages old reverence for the land and sea.”
This is the second book by AGJ, a follow up of sorts to the highly successful Feast! considered to be the ultimate source for preparing traditional Native Cuisine.
Chef George, a member of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in B.C. is a chef, culinary ambassador, advocate and educator. He has participated in the first all-Native team at the Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany, and was head chef at the Four Host First Nations pavilion at the Vancouver Olympics. In 2012 chef George was part of a delegation of chefs from 25 countries on a U.S. State Department initiative called “Culinary Diplomacy: promoting Cultural Understanding Through Food,” and he is now a chef mentor for Super Chefs, a program that empowers and educates youth about cooking, nutrition and healthful eating at home, and he also develops Native menus for restaurants around the world. And somehow, luckily for us, he has found time to put together this wonderful, enticing book.
“I grew up in Telkwa, B.C., the third eldest of six kids. Our home didn’t have indoor plumbing or running water. For food, my family had to take advantage of what was available to us seasonally, in the wild. In the spring and summer, we would harvest trout and salmon; in the fall we would hunt moose, rabbit and deer, in the winter we would go ice-fishing. Aboriginal people have a strong tie to the land and to their traditions, and it has always ben my goal to fuse these traditional values with modern and innovative cooking techniques. With that in mind, at the age of 18 I decided to become a chef…”- Andrew George Jr
Traditional Native cuisine is prepared by using locally sourced game, seasonal produce and legumes, and locally harvested herbs; the original locavore diet.Chef George’s approach is a straightforward and unfussy fusion of traditional and modern; chapter one, for instance, focuses on stocks and sauces. Fish stock, Chicken, Brown, Game, Espagnole Sauce, Demi-Glace, Marinade, Court Bouillion, Fish Veloute and so on. Chapters devoted to Appetizers, Salads and Soups, Entrees of Meat& Poultry, Fish & Seafood, Vegetarian & Sides, Pastas, desserts and Breakfasts. Traditional, yes, but with a Native twist; “Oysters Rockefeller First Nations Style” feature stinging nettles and dandelion greens. Other dishes also burst with innovative ideas : “Beet Root Gravlax”, ”Maple Glazed Pacific Sardines,” Venison & Caramelized Onion Tarts,” “Nicioise Salad with Poached Salmon” “Rabbit Noodle Soup” ….”Pan-fried Buffalo Rib-Eye Steaks with Balckberry Au Jus”…for breakfast how about “Bannock Eggs Bennie with smoked Salmon” or a “Venison Sausage Omelette”?
The food runs the gamut from Pacific Halibut, to dandelion greens, game stars in “Toody Ni Juniper Duck,” “Cranberry Sweet and Sour Goose Breast”, “Raspberry Glazed Rabbit Roulade” ”Venison tourtiere” and a plethora of moose, buffalo, caribou and elk stews and steaks, braised ribs and spicy wraps. These dishes are elegant, innovative, sustainable, and quintessentially Canadian, proving there’s more to Canadian cuisine than poutine and Nanaimo Bars!