Chef Joseph Shawana: Inspired Indigenous Cuisine

by Miche Genest

Pulled Caribou at Kū-Kŭm Kitchen in Toronto.

When chef Joseph Shawana was growing up on Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron, and he wanted to eat morel mushrooms, he just went outside and picked some. “I didn’t even know how much morels cost until I moved to Toronto and people were talking about morels for 50 or 60 bucks a pound, and that was quite a steal,” he says. “And here I am at home just frying them in a little bit of garlic and butter.”

Cedar, juniper, partridge, the white-tailed deer and a “huge abundance” of morels are just some of the wild flora and fauna found in Shawana’s traditional territory on the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Reserve. Along with cultivated foods sourced from small, local producers, wild foods form the backbone of the menu at Shawana’s Toronto restaurant, Kū-Kŭm Kitchen.

The seasonal menu reflects Shawana’s heritage and his training—he attended culinary school in Toronto and worked in several restaurants there, most recently at Snakes and Lattes, where in 2016 he featured a special Aboriginal Day menu that quickly sold out, eventually inspiring him and partner Ben Castanie to start up Kū-Kŭm.

Shawana’s 27-seat spot, opened barely a year ago in an older mid-town neighbourhood, is one of four Indigenous restaurants in Toronto, and his work is emblematic of a new wave of Indigenous chefs across Canada who are wowing diners by combining traditional ingredients with contemporary cooking techniques.

Three of those chefs—Shawana, Shane Chartrand of Sage Restaurant in Edmonton, and Christa Bruneau-Guenther, chef and owner of Feast Café Bistro in Winnipeg, will be in Carcross, Yukon Territory on April 7, cooking for the First Nations Fire Feast, a Yukon Culinary Festival event co-hosted by Northern Vision Development. Held in the Carcross Tagish First Nation’s newly built Learning Centre, the feast will be cooked, as the title suggests, over open fires, and will feature dishes that highlight the food systems of Indigenous peoples.

“It’s a really good opportunity to showcase Indigenous cuisine,” says Shawana. In the spirit of collaboration and mentorship, each chef will work with a Yukon First Nations chef or culinary student to produce dishes that celebrate Indigenous cuisine.

Shawana will bring a few different Indigenous traditions with him, starting off the multi-course meal with a squash, corn and bean soup that honours the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois nations of southern Ontario and the north-eastern United States. Squash, corn and beans are known as the Three Sisters in that tradition; they are companion plants that help each other in the growing phase. Corn stalks support the bean runners, the bean plants fix nitrogen, and squash provides ground cover, moisture retention and protection against rodents.

As a tribute to the Inuit peoples of the Arctic, Shawana will serve seal loin, seared in a pan over the fire and accompanied by sautéed sea asparagus from the West Coast, some wild onions and wild garlic, and fire-roasted Yukon beets.

Shawana took some flak when he introduced seal meat at Kū-Kŭm in October 2017. A petition with more than 3,000 signatures circulated online, demanding he remove seal from the menu. That sparked a counter-petition from a Toronto Indigenous artist, who was frustrated at the bad press Shawana was getting, and with a more  general misunderstanding of Indigenous culture and traditions.

Shawana was aware he might be headed for controversy. “We were hesitant to have [seal] on the menu here at first, just because we knew we’d get a little bit of backlash for it,” he says. But, as he told CBC in an earlier interview, “…it’s part of the northern community’s culture. So we’re trying to pay homage to them, as we do with everything else.… It’s all dietary needs of the Indigenous communities from east to west.” Seal meat is still on the menu at Kū-Kŭm, and Shawana says it’s doing very well. Not long ago he served his seal to a party of Inuit diners. “It was their first time of having seal the way we serve it here,” he says. “They loved it.”

Seal Tartare, with nasturtium.

Shawana learned to love cooking at his grandmother’s side; she cooked for the family and for the community.  “My grandmother played a huge role in all of our lives growing up. That’s part of the reason I named my restaurant Kū-Kŭm. Another reason is my wife is Cree and Kū-Kŭm means grandmother in Northern Cree—so it’s a way of paying tribute to my wife [too], who is a huge part of who I am today.” A mural of his grandmother, his mother and his mother-in-law graces one wall of the restaurant.

Dinner at Kū-Kŭm might include main courses of pulled caribou wrapped in caul fat, goose with puff pastry, or bouillabase of mixed Canadian fishes and seafoods in a cedar and anise broth. Dessert could be a pot of rich chocolate mousse lightly flavoured with lavender. But the meal always ends with a cup of cedar tea. In winter, passersby can drop in, even if the restaurant isn’t open, to warm up with a cup of that same tea.

“My grandmother always taught us to keep the door open, because you never know who’s going to want to come in and get fed, or just keep warm,” says Shawana. “

That simple, human hospitality goes hand in hand with Shawana’s philosophy of respect for whole ingredients and for bringing community together over food. “We deal with smaller businesses that actually know their products and know their farmers and their families, and know how everything is harvested.” Shawana sources wild ingredients from Forbes Wild Foods, who work with several Indigenous communities in Ontario. “So we’re helping that business out, which in turn helps out a lot of First Nations communities.”

Before Shawana was approached by organizers to take part in the First Nations Fire Feast, he wasn’t aware there was a food scene happening in the Yukon. “It doesn’t surprise me, just considering that everybody is starting to go back to the roots of where food actually comes from.”

“It doesn’t come from the grocery store, it comes from [outside] our back doors.”

To purchase tickets for the First Nations Fire Feast, visit here.

The Forest Garden of Agnes Seitz

by Miche Genest

A food forest in the boreal forest.

Guild is an old word denoting an association of like-minded people engaged in a common pursuit — armorers, cobblers, or weavers, for example. In Whitehorse weavers, sewers and felters have organized themselves into a Fibres Guild, and theatre-goers attend plays at the Guild Theatre.

On a small homestead on the Annie Lake Road, there’s a different sort of guild at work, involving players of another kind. They are plants; all kinds of plants from herbs to berry bushes to fruit trees, and they work together in a “food forest” planted and maintained by Agnes Seitz and her partner Gertie.

For the past several years Seitz has been slowly building what has become known in permaculture circles as a food forest, but is actually, she says, “comparable to a really extensive home garden.” This kind of home garden has been grown in tropical climates from the Amazon to India for thousands of years; such gardens are a low-intervention way of ensuring food security. In the mid-1980s, British gardener Robert Hart began experimenting with “forest gardening” in Shropshire, England, bringing those techniques into a more temperate climate.

In the Yukon several gardeners and homesteaders are experimenting with building food forests in a much colder environment, Seitz among them. “The idea is that a young woodland is the most perfect natural system and the most prolific one,” she says. “And that’s what we’re trying to copy, a young woodland.” A young woodland occurring naturally is basically self-sustaining. While a planted food forest is not entirely self-sustaining, it can come close.

Planting in guilds is a cornerstone in the building of a food forest. “You plant in such a way that throughout the season [the plants] support each other,” says Seitz. “There are nitrogen fixers in there, there are attractants that bring in the bees for pollination, there are plants that bring up minerals from the soil. You bring all these players together in a system that makes it so much easier on us.”

Some of the players in the “guild.”

When she was starting out, “because we don’t have soil here,” Seitz brought in a truckload of compost from the City of Whitehorse dump. Five or six years later, now that the system is up and running, Seitz’s interventions are low-tech and low-key. She fertilizes with wood ash and human urine. “Humans are one more part of the habitat we are building there,” she says. “An apple tree needs about five pees a year to get all the nitrogen it needs.”

Seitz also uses “green manure,” turning plants into fertilizer using a technique called “chop and drop.” After harvesting, “you just cut the plants and let them fall, and they feed the micro-organisms and that’s how you build the soil.”

Seitz also grows a huge annual garden of organic vegetables, which she says requires lots of controls and lots of work. Square foot for square foot, the annual garden uses nearly twice the mount of fertilizer of the perennial food forest.

She estimates there are about 80 species of herbaceous plants in her 4,000 square-foot food forest, most of them edible, like sorrel, burdock, mint, lovage, a wide variety of chives and onions, and Old World plants like sweet cicely and Good King Henry. Mixed amongst these plants are nettles, fireweed, lambs quarters and dandelions. “Wild foods, what we call weeds, are an essential part of the system,” she says.

The next layer up is composed of berry bushes such as Saskatoons, gooseberries, red, white and black currants, haskaps and raspberries. Among the next layer, the fruit trees, are hawthorns, sour cherries, pin cherries, several species of apple, Siberian pear, Manchurian plum, Manchurian apricot, Siberian pine (there may be pine nuts in 12 or 15 years) and even hazelnuts.

The more exotic species are still “kind of a research project,” says Seitz. Though the hazelnuts are not yet fruiting, they have lasted three years. “It’s going to be interesting to see how they did with this really cold winter.”

Seitz has not planted low-bush cranberries, a favourite Yukon berry, because she can easily walk into the surrounding boreal forest to find them. “They’re right around the corner.”

But for just about every other kind of herb, plant, berry or tree fruit, she says, all she has to do is walk into her backyard food forest and “kind of like just – forage.”

For further reading and resources on food forest gardening, a good place to start is Permaculture Research Institute.

Herbacecous greens, ripe for foraging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suzanne’s Blog: How Do You Like Them Apples?

A mid-winter treat for Suzanne — a locally-grown apple. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It is the middle of winter and in my hand I hold a crunchy, juicy, sweet, locally-grown apple.  Yes, that’s right, locally grown – in Dawson City, Yukon – 64 degrees north.  Further north than Iqualuit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse.

It is all thanks to the ingenuity of John Lenart at Klondike Valley Nursery, Canada’s northernmost nursery.  John has spent the last thirty years studying and grafting apple trees in order to cultivate varieties that can withstand the climate of the north.  The nursery now has 65 cultivars and some of those varieties are ‘winter apples’ – meaning that they keep well in cold storage throughout the winter.

2017 was a tough season on the apple trees due to a late frost in the middle ofJune.  But Klondike Valley Nursery has generously been sharing some of their personal apple supply with me for this year of eating local.  And I can tell you that a crunchy locally-grown apple in the middle of winter is a treat beyond all measure!

John Lenart has been cultivating apples n the North for over 30 years. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

New York Chef Champions the Farm-to-Table Food Movement

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” – John Muir

New York chef, Dan Barber, likes to tell how he experienced an epiphany a decade ago watching his chefs constantly dipping into the flour bin located outside his office. He realized that he knew nothing — where it came from, or how it was grown — about this ubiquitous, and somewhat tasteless ingredient, which was pretty much in everything the restaurant prepared. He set out to find a healthy, holistic flour alternative, but what started simply as a search for organic, locally-sourced grains, led to a broader understanding of sustainable agricultural methods. He realized there were many secondary crops being planted by the farmer to nurture and protect the soil and yield, but not necessarily contributing to the farm’s bottom line. That’s when Barber realized he needed to integrate his culinary methods and list of ingredients to include all those being used by the grower.

Barber has long been a champion of the local, organic food movement. But his interest goes beyond just serving this type of fare in his pioneering farm-to-table Blue Hill restaurant. Now, with a new book, The Third Plate: Field Notes for the Future of Food, Barber is striving to change not only the way food is grown, but the consumption habits of Americans as well.

Barber’s relates how his pursuit of intense flavor repeatedly forced him to look beyond individual ingredients at a region’s broader story. In The Third Plate he draws on the wisdom and experience of chefs, farmers, and seed breeders around the world, and proposes a new definition for ethical and delicious eating. He charts a bright path forward for eaters and chefs alike, daring everyone to imagine a future cuisine that is as sustainable as it is delicious.

Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, and author of The Third Plate: Field Notes for the Future of Food. Photo by Lou Stejskal

In Barber’s view, modern industrial food systems are actually disconnected from the whole because of their large-scale specialization and centralization of food products. For organic farm-to-table agriculture to be truly sustainable, the whole process, including those preparing and consuming the food, need to be treated as parts of an interconnected, holistic fabric.

Barber has now opened a second restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a working farm and celebrated educational center in the Hudson Valley region of New York, where he both practices and preaches his philosophy. And the world is taking notice. He has received several accolades and awards for both his cuisine and his crusading efforts. In 2009, he was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world.

In an article in The Atlantic magazine, Barber describes how one of his inspirations is John Muir, (a naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States), who wrote: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Sean Sherman: The Sioux Chef

Sean Sherman is known as the Sioux Chef and he is on a mission to revitalize indigenous cuisine across North America.

Sean and his indigenous Sioux Chef team create delicious meals using local indigenous ingredients — game meat, foraged plants, and wild grains. They exclude ingredients introduced since colonization such as dairy products, wheat flour, processed sugar, beef, chicken and pork.  No bannock or fry bread! The traditional native foods are low glycemic, contain healthy fats and great proteins.  Amaranth, quinoa, wild rice,  vegetable flour, cedar, juniper, sage, bergamot, squash, corn, maple syrup …. these are just some of the staple ingredients in the Sioux Chef pantry.

The result, says Sean, is “vibrant, beautiful and healthy. It is a way to preserve and revitalize indigenous culture through food.”

As a chef, Sean found he could easily find food from all over the world but he had difficulty finding foods that were representative of his indigenous culture.  So he began researching what his Lakota ancestors were eating in times past.  His research took him into the foundations of indigenous food systems including Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship, salt and sugar making, hunting and fishing, food preservation, Native American migration histories, elemental cooking techniques, and Native culture and history.

Sean and the Sioux Chef team take knowledge from the past, apply it to modern day and create something new from it.

They have just released a  fantastic cookbook “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen”   complete with award winning recipes and teaming with knowledge.  This is Sean’s version of ‘The Joy of Native American Cooking’!

Through the non-profit organization NATIFS, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems, the Sioux Chef team have a dream to increase access to local indigenous food across North America.  They plan to help set up Food Hubs across the USA, Canada and Mexico, each consisting of a restaurant and a training centre that focuses on local indigenous foods of the area.

Check out the CBC Radio One interview with Sean Sherman on Unreserved with Rosanna Deerchild.

> Get more information about The Sioux Chef and NATIFS

 

In Far Northern Norway a Chef Strives for Polar Permaculture

Chef Benjamin Vidmar in front of his domed greenhouse. Photo courtesy of PolarPermaculture.com.

Local eco-chef and self-proclaimed foodie Benjamin l. Vidmar, has a dream. He wants to make the remote northern Norwegian community of Longyearbyen, Svalbard more sustainable, and to produce locally-grown food. Svalbard is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, located about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. The latitude of the islands range from 74° to 81° North, making them some of the most northerly inhabited places on Earth.

Like many communities north of the arctic circle, there is no viable soil in Svalbard.  How does one grow local food if there is no local soil?

In 2015 Chef Vidmar started a company called Polar Permaculture Solutions, whose goal is to apply permaculture principles and ecological design to create a circular economy in Longyearbyen, and “to connect people back to their food.”

Working at the time as head chef at the Svalbar Pub, he noticed how all the food was being flown or shipped to the island. However, in the past food had been grown on Svalbard, and Vidmar wanted to return to that tradition — but with some modern enhancements and without having to ship in soil.

Vidmar started with hydroponic systems using commercial fertilizer, but felt he could do better. Why ship fertilizer up to the island, he reasoned, when there is so much food waste available to compost and produce biogas? Food waste in his town is dumped into the sea, and he took up the challenge to grow locally-grown food making use of available resources on the island.

Polar Permaculture researched what others were doing around the Arctic, and opted to go with composting worms, specifically red worms, which excel at producing a natural fertlizer from food waste. He got permission from the government to bring worms up to the island, which took a year and a half, but “was worth the wait.”

Vidmar’s company is now growing microgreens for the hotels and restaurants on the island.  Fine dining chefs use microgreens to enhance the attractiveness and taste of their dishes with their delicate textures and distinctive flavors. During the growing process, worm castings are produced, and this natural fertilizer that can be used to grown more food.

In addition to composting with worms, Polar Permaculture has started hatching quails from eggs and is now delivering fresh locally produced quail eggs to local restaurants and hotels. Their next step will be to get a bio-digestor setup and to produce biogas with it. The worms are mostly vegetarian, but with a digestor, the operation will be able to utilize manure from the birds, as well as food waste that would normally be dumped into the sea. This will also allow them to produce heat for their greenhouse, as well as produce electricity that can run generators to power the lights. A natural fertilizer also comes out of the digestor, which will then be used to grow more food for the town.

What started as one chef’s personal journey has become a local permaculture operation that is reshaping the nature of the local food economy, and providing an inspiration for other Northern communities interested in food sustainability.

10 Billion: What’s on Your Plate?

By the year 2050, the world’s population is expected to be 10 billion people.  How will we be able to feed 10 billion people?

Valentin Thurn’s documentary “10 Billion:  What’s on Your Plate?” takes the viewer across the world to examine possible solutions to this question – from insects to artificial meat, from industrial farms to micro-farms.  If you eat food, this documentary is a ‘must see.’    And, although the feature length version is difficult to view from Canada, until Jan 21, 2018 you can watch the 53-minute version for free online thanks to TVO. Ontario’s educational TV network.

https://tvo.org/video/documentaries/10-billion-whats-on-your-plate

The conclusion might surprise you.  Or it might not.

Start the New Year with a sense of hope for the future and take 53 minutes of your time to watch “10 Billion: What’s on Your Plate” before January 21st.

How to Grow Food for 200 People

Photo courtesy of Northern Farm Training Institute.

The Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) in Hay River is turning an abandoned, industrial pig farm into a teaching campus, with the help of a contribution from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor).

Since 2013, NFTI has trained more than 150 people from 30 communities, and 13 of those people have gone on to start their own farm businesses. With the 260-acre farm campus, NFTI will demonstrate and teach how to feed 200 people. “Our most isolated communities are 200 people are or less, so we wanted to show, in a realistic way, what does it take to feed community of that size,” said Kim Rapati of NFTI.

The farm will develop the sustainable systems needed to provide a complete diet for 200 people, including greenhouses, permanent food forests and orchards, hardy northern grains and pastures, meat and dairy farming, food storage and marketing.

The focus is on “regenerative agriculture”, or agriculture that supports a healthy and abundant ecosystem, that will also help northern people protect wild herds and wild harvesting.

Rapati said that the failure of the pig farm, established in 1990 and abandoned in 1995, demonstrates that industrial, confinement agriculture does not work in a northern context, “for our people and our markets.” The NFTI farm campus is representative of a new model of agriculture taking hold in Canada–small-scaled, highly productive farming systems. “It is now possible for small, bio-intensive market gardens to earn between $25,000 and $150,000 in Canada,” Rapati said.

For more information on the NFTI farm campus, watch Rapati’s presentation on the Northern Food Network’s Webinar # 3

Northern Farm Training Institute’s Founder Receives National Honour

Jackie Milne, NFTI Founder & President.

One of the leaders in Northern food sustainability, Jackie Milne, the Founder and President of the Northern Farm Training Institute, was in Ottawa last Friday to receive the Meritorious Service Decoration from the Governor General.

With global warming affecting traditional hunting grounds, Jackie saw a need to increase access to fresh produce in Canada’s northern communities. She established the NFTI in Hay River, NWT to teach the local population about sustainable, environmentally sound farming practices that would supplement traditional diets. Since 2013, the institute has trained nearly 100 farmers from across the north, with Indigenous students making up more than half of the program’s graduates.

The Meritorious Service Decorations were established by Queen Elizabeth II to recognize the extraordinary people who make Canada proud. Their acts are often innovative, set an example or model for others to follow, or respond to a particular challenge faced by a community. The best candidates are those who inspire others through their motivation to find solutions to specific and pressing needs or provide an important service to their community or country.

Vertical Agriculture Coming to Carcross

A vertical agriculture facility is in the planning stages with the goal of having it built in Carcross this fall. This innovative project will be the first  of its kind in the Yukon.

Tami Grantham, Natural Resources Coordinator with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, says:  “What attracted us to this technology is the ability to grow greens year-round. It’s a goal and a mission for the government of Carcross-Tagish First Nation to become food-secure.”

Construction would be managed through a new corporation created as a partnership between the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and Northstar Agriculture of which the First Nation will be 51 per cent owner.

The system will recirculate water from a fish tank through a vegetable grow bed. Nutrients from the fish waste feed the plants, and the plants filter the water to keep the fish healthy. In normal aquaculture, excretions from the animals being raised can accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by bacteria into nitrates, which are utilized by the plants as nutrients, and the water is then recirculated back to the aquaculture system.

The vertical part of this type of farming will be in the form of stacked layers that could be up to 10 meters high, in order to maximize production, contained in a warehouse-style space.

Not only would this mean a possibility for fresh local produce and lower food prices in the community, but also the promise of food security, as this system allows year-round growing of vegetables in a sustainable way.

The fish raised would be Tilapia, which is common in farming systems. Vegetables grown would include kale, spinach, and perhaps even strawberries and other vine crops.