Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
Shane Chartrand says he’s making up for lost time. The Edmonton-based chef only learned the extent of his Indigenous roots when he was 29 years old. Shortly after finding out about his lineage, Chartrand made the determination to know all he could about his culture and to utilize his skills as a chef to celebrate its cuisine.
Now 43, Chartrand is excelling. He represented the Alberta capital at the 2018 Gold Medal Plates competition, has written a cookbook, “Marrow: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine”, and is launching a new 150-seat restaurant at Edmonton’s River Cree Resort and Casino.
On top of leading a kitchen in his home province, Chartrand also travels around Canada to introduce his cuisine and how it connects to stories of his culture. On National Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21, he will be among chefs collaborating on a dinner in the Okanagan Nation, on the traditional territory of the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB). The 60-seat Elements Dinner — so named for the Earth, Air, Fire, and Water that will inspire the feast — is scheduled to take place on the patio at NK’Mip Cellars winery, which overlooks vineyards and Lake Osoyoos. Here is an introduction to the chefs who will be participating.
The executive chef at Sage, also at the River Cree Resort, was raised in foster homes and later adopted into a Métis family in Alberta. When he learned he was from the Enoch Nation, part of the Plains Cree people, he also gained a new focus for his culinary talents.
“It can be deep and dark and cool,” he says about Indigenous cooking, “and it’s wrapped in spirituality, and when I found out all of that then I thought, ‘Why can’t I celebrate my identity?’”
He shifted from Asian and Japanese cuisine to learning about game meats and foraged fruits, herbs, and flowers that are used so often in Indigenous recipes from central Canada.
“From now to the day I expire I will celebrate and research Indigenous backgrounds, food culture, and food relations with elders,” Chartrand says.
In the past two years, he has visited nine different tribes, learning and documenting their way of life. From each of them he retains stories about how their food consumption is impacted by their culture. For example, he says he was moved by the Haida adoration of chum salmon, which is widely considered an inferior fish product. But, as Chartrand found out, the chum salmon is revered by the people known as the warriors of the Pacific northwest because of the fish’s tenacity, which gives it a kinship with the Haida Nation of British Columbia.
“It’s a big, strong fish, it has to battle through some difficult waters, and the belief is that strength will be part of you when you consume it,” Chartrand says, explaining why an unheralded species has meaning to that specific Indigenous community. “It’s those kinds of stories that I bring from every nation and what I want to share when I cook. Food and story go hand in hand.”
At Kū-kŭm Kitchen in Toronto, Shawana spotlights the ingredients and flavours of his heritage. A member of the Odawa Nation, Shawana was raised on the Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve in Manitoulin Island, a scenic destination about 550 kilometres (340 miles) northwest of Toronto. A chef trained in classic French cuisine, Shawana has taken his skills and blended them with recipes and influences from the matriarchs in his family. In fact, the name of his 27-seat restaurant means “grandmother” in Cree.
The result is a menu that makes a bold, uncompromising statement as it aims to introduce Indigenous food to a wide audience.
“A lot of our clientele are from European descent and they’re always blown away about the simplicity of what we do and how it’s not overcomplicated. We do a venison osso bucco; a braised elk and a pickled elk heart. We have a pemmican dish where we work with traditional recipes and try modernizing it,” says Shawana, who will be cooking in British Columbia for the first time when he brings his skills to Osoyoos in June.
He has teamed with Chartrand at similar events and says diners will enjoy a diverse meal thanks to the chefs’ differing approaches.
“Each one of us has something to bring to the table,” Shawana notes. “Shane’s cooking technique and background are completely different than mine. When we collaborate we come up with some amazing menus. That’s one of the things to look forward to.”
Godfrey, who oversees the menu at NK’Mip Cellars, will be the host chef for the Elements feast. As such, he sees part of his role as a champion for the Okanagan Valley’s local growing scene.
“What I’m hoping to do is to express what the Okanagan can do, because it is in between a lot of things. We’re not on the coast and we’re not in the Alberta prairies, we’re kind of in the middle of those two places. And in the south, with our climate being so hot, we tend to see a lot of young leaves early,” Godfrey says.
A Vancouver transplant, Godfrey has been amazed by the quality and variety of produce he comes across every day in the desert-like climate of the South Okanagan. The relationships he has built with farmers offers him deeper understanding of the area’s possibilities.
“As with any chef that is reliant on their area or the culture that’s behind the area, you have to talk to the people who are actually out in the field, who know what’s growing and what’s growing well,” he adds.
Godfrey also has the distinction of working at a winery, which has “expontentially increased” his understanding of food-and-wine pairing wines.
“One of the things of working at a winery is they’re showcasing their wines, so having a winemaker on hand to explain the flavours and how their wine works with a specific terroir is something I haven’t been around before. Having that expertise about the land and what we grow is something I appreciate for sure,” says Godfrey, who will be joined at the Elements dinner by NK’Mip Cellars winemaker Justin Hall.
Although not a member of an Indigenous nation, Godfrey knows the power and emotional impact that collaborations such as the one planned for June 21 can have on guests. He’s excited to team with Chartrand and Shawana, and keen to showcase the ingredients of his region.
“Everything is just getting going,” he says of the spring growing season in Oliver and Osoyoos. “We’re seeing a lot of fresh lettuces, herbs, arugula, asparagus popping up, and within the next month there’s going to be a lot more.”
JUSTIN HALL (winemaker)
Hall, a member of the OIB, will not only oversee the wine pairings for the five-course Elements Dinner he will also share stories about the history of NK’Mip Cellars, which was named the 2016 Canadian Winery of the Year by Intervin. Hall’s path to becoming one of the few Indigenous winemakers in North America began more than 15 years ago when the leadership of the OIB encouraged him to take up the trade. He did so with gusto, studying in New Zealand and working alongside fellow winemaker Randy Picton to develop his talents at NK’Mip Cellars, which is a partnership between the OIB and Arterra Wines Canada.
“One of the things I learned early on is that winemaking isn’t about a recipe. This is about consistency. It’s about educating yourself year after year, knowing your land and your vines so well that you know what wine you’re going to get even before you harvest your grapes,” Hall says. “When people suggest that winemaking is like art, I think where that’s true is artists see the whole picture before they start. I see wine that way now. I see the end result before I begin the process.”
Those results have produced national sensations that will be among the many wines poured on National Indigenous Peoples Day. The Elements event will take place in cooperation with Spirit Ridge, the luxury resort that is part of the Hyatt Unbound Collection of properties and is next door to the NK’Mip Cellars patio.
MORE ABOUT THE ELEMENTS DINNER
Date: June 21, 2018, 6:30-11 p.m.
Location: NK’Mip Cellars patio, 1400 Rancher Creek Road, Osoyoos, BC (see map below)
Tickets: The five-course dinner includes wine pairings and costs $155 per person. Tickets can be purchased online here.
MORE ABOUT SPIRIT RIDGE, UNBOUND COLLECTION BY HYATT
Location: 1200 Rancher Creek Road, Osoyoos, BC
Room Rates: A search on the property’s booking engine returned a nightly rate of $256 for a June weekend.
MORE VACAY.CA COVERAGE
Destiny Matches Winemakers and the South Okanagan — Immigrants from India, farmers devoted to sustainability, and Indigenous community members have turned the grape-growing regions of Oliver and Osoyoos into global success stories. Read more.
10 Indigenous Experiences in Oliver and Osoyoos — From secluded hikes to immersive cultural experiences and luxury hotel stays, the South Okanagan is full of Indigenous-influenced activities that will surprise and delight. Read more.
This article is the sixth of an expanded content series focusing on travel to Osoyoos and the South Okanagan. It was created in partnership with Destination BC, the Osoyoos Indian Band, Arterra Wines Canada, Spirit Ridge Resort – Unbound Collection by Hyatt, Destination Osoyoos, and the Oliver-Osoyoos Wine Association.