What is Canadian cuisine? Some would say poutine, or maple syrup, or maybe butter tarts.
For Shane Chartrand, it’s not so easily defined.
“I believe Indigenous food, and the spirit behind eating it, is Canadian food,” he said over the phone from Edmonton, where he’s the executive chef at Sage Restaurant at the River Cree Resort and Casino.
On April 7, Chartrand, who also competed on Chopped Canada in 2015, will be one of half a dozen chefs participating in First Nations Fire Feast.
The road-tripping culinary event offers attendees the opportunity to enjoy, and learn about, a fire-made meal in Carcross before coming back to Whitehorse for an after-party.
Eric Pateman, a Vancouver-based chef who has been involved with the Yukon Culinary Festival for years, organized the Feast.
He said he hopes it will teach diners more about Indigenous culture, but the goal is also to educate a couple of the chefs.
Pateman said two Indigenous culinary students, both attending Yukon College, will join the team to learn what it’s like to work alongside established chefs such as Chartrand, Chef Georgette Aisaica from the Coast High Country Inn, Christa Bruneau-Guenther from Feast Cafe Bistro in Winnipeg, and Joseph Shawana from Kū-kŭm Indigenous Kitchen in Toronto.
Chartrand said listening to others is how he has learned about Indigenous cooking over the years.
A member of the Enoch Cree Nation, Chartrand grew up in foster care and with adoptive Métis parents. He said his parents taught him the importance of fishing and hunting, but he’s also taken lessons from others as cooking has given him the opportunity to travel.
“In my humble little trails and my humble little path that I’m taking, I’m taking bundles of information from all over,” he said. “Whatever (people are) eating or enjoying in the terroir that they’re from.”
That information informs his thoughts about Canadian cuisine and what Canadian culinary identity looks like.
“Do we even need to have an identity?” he said. “I believe we do and the Indigenous spirit is what it should be.”
In a REDx talk from two years ago (REDx is a non-profit speaker series with an Indigenous focus), Chartrand elaborated on what that means to him.
“You don’t just sit and eat and run. You do that when you’re young but not when you’re older. You think, you listen, you know what I mean?”
“In my career right now, in my culture, I’ve been trying to find ways that I can relate to the farm and fork,” he said during the talk, referencing the slow food movement. “The more I hear it the more I laugh. I’m like, ‘Man when did this ever stop?’ I grew up with a farm. We grew up killing chickens. I hunt, I’m mean I’m a hunter. We hunt. But my family doesn’t go around talking about it.”
What they might talk about is the story behind the dish.
Recently, while cooking at an event in Vancouver, Chartrand told the News he was given 80 pounds of chum salmon by members of the Haida Nation.
In the culinary world, chum is viewed as a lower-grade fish, he said, but to the Haida, it represents strength. Chum salmon are big and strong so they can fight the rivers, said Chartrand. The Haida believe that if you eat it, your mind becomes powerful.
Chartrand’s dish for the Fire Feast will also be fish-centric — he’s working on fried smelts with birch syrup.
Pateman said the event on April 7 begins in Carcross at 5 p.m. (shuttles are available). Held at the Carcross Cultural Centre, Pateman said the evening will have a mix-and-mingle vibe that will see diners milling about huge fire pits while their meals are being cooked.
In addition to Chartrand’s smelt, dishes include cedar plank Arctic char with wild rice salad, pine-nut-and-sage-crusted elk tenderloin with Saskatoon berry reduction, fried bannock, white bean hummus, and seal loin, roasted with Yukon potatoes in the style of what Pateman calls a “Canadian-inspired chimichurri.”
Yukon Brewing will also be on hand, along with bars serving wine and cocktails.
In addition to learning about the food from the chefs, attendees will see a performance from Dakhká Khwáan Dancers before going back to Whitehorse for an after-party with a performance by DJ Dash.
“Besides a great meal, I hope we give a strong message,” said Chartrand.
“That’s what I want people to take away. When they’re sleeping the next week they remember everything that was talked about and everything that they experienced.”
“Not only was that dinner amazing, but there was a real message there,” he said.
Tickets are $95 and are available online at www.yukonculinary.ca
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org