PORT HAWKESBURY: A culinary showcase, which featured five-courses of Indigenous cuisine, was hosted by the culinary arts students at the Strait area campus of the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) on March 28.
The event, which acted as a celebration for Indigenous cuisine, was an opportunity for the culinary arts students to gain first-hand experience from one of Canada’s top Indigenous chefs, Richard Francis.
“We were fortunate enough he did fly in yesterday, he met with the students and talked about today’s dinner service and what kind of passion he has,” culinary arts assistant Adèle LeBlanc told The Reporter.
With financial support from RBC through their StudentWorks program, the college welcomed the artisan of Indigenous cuisine and proud member of the Six Nation Reserve in Ontario. Francis has worked hard to become an award-wining and well-respected chef among his community, his colleagues and his country.
Now an owner-operator of his own consultation and catering company, while also preparing to launch a new TV series, his passion has always been to support, motivate, and inspire First Nation communities about reconciliation through Aboriginal cuisine.
“His interest in working with youth has been a leading motivation behind his recent school visits to First Nations communities across Canada,” LeBlanc explained. “Now by joining in conversation and learning with our culinary team, Chef Rich will bring his passion and inspirational story to us all.”
His short time with the students had lasting impressions on them as he described food as a pivotal building block in knowing culture, hospitality and a sense of belonging. He also taught them that a nation can be healed through culinary experiences that ignite taste and smell.
In conjunction with the Indigenous showcase, the college’s local celebrity chef of the week was Kiana Augustine-Sylliboy. She is a hard-working and resilient chef and is a proud member of the Paqtnkek First Nation, and was excited to showcase her learning and heritage with the provided menu.
Augustine-Sylliboy completed her co-op work placement at Little Christo’s in Antigonish. Working mainly with the restaurant’s pizza and Mediterranean inspired menu, she eventually became the second head chef there.
“Essentially, we always have a chef of the week, where our own culinary arts students get to feature menus they’ve been working on. This week the chef happens to be Kiana, so she chose to feature Indigenous cuisine,” LeBlanc said. “Drawing inspiration with food from her Mi’kmaq culture, we started to think how we can build on this, to really make it an exciting day for the whole campus, to [provide] educational awareness and a very special learning opportunity for everyone, myself included.”
LeBlanc reached out to Francis after following his story for the past few months and knowing the vision he had and his commitment to helping educate, not only his own people, but others on how the history and culture around food has been lost through colonization.
“His mandate has been to educate and help bring that awareness to everyone,” she said. “That’s where it came from, the big vision was to make a really special learning opportunity, and why not showcase one of our country’s best right now.”
As a little take away from the dinner service, LeBlanc provided a traditional bannock recipe to the dinner guests, as she thought Indigenous people ate bannock, but after speaking with Francis she learned it’s actually seen as a trauma.
“It’s a reminder of colonization, and the white man coming in and saying you need to use these ingredients,” she said. “I found that really quite powerful as I didn’t know its history, but he told me to leave it as that’s where we need to teach people, and it can be a way to start changing the narrative of what the misunderstanding or the truths of the past and where we’re going.”
Only 26 seats were made available for this signature celebration, which resulted in a more personal dinner service.
The showcase started with guests being welcomed into Mawiomi, where they shared the first course together – turmeric Atlantic cod on a charred bannock crouton. Next, guests moved into the student-run Savour Restaurant to settle in for the remaining four courses of traditional Indigenous cuisine.
The showcase was an event and celebration intended for everyone from the culinary students preparing the food to the attendees who got to indulge in Indigenous cuisine.
“As we had the lead up of researching and helping elevate what Kiana already presented with her mini-menu prior, we served a three-course lunch, so students have been thinking about this and building on it in the last couple of weeks,” LeBlanc explained. “But then of course having that hands-on interaction with Chef Rich who’s so well-versed and passionate, and then finally being able to share that food with the public – everyone benefits.”
LeBlanc believes food is such a comfort and it’s familiar to everyone. She said it can break down barriers by allowing to people to sit together and learn by sharing.
“So even if we’re not speaking the same language or have the same beliefs, or skin tone, but if you can share a warm meal together, you’re understanding that this is healing me, and I feel good, and the conversation that organically happens around the table works towards reconciliation.”
The second course consisted of a Mi’kmaq fish potage, which included mussels, salmon, blistered corn and potatoes. Third course was blood orange field greens with fennel, goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts, and blood orange vinaigrette. The main course was two way duck, skin crisp duck breast, confit duck leg, steel-cut oat and bacon wild rice risotto, roasted root vegetables and sweetgrass seedlings. The fifth and final course was an open flame blueberry cake, topped with a mixed berry compote, s’more macaroons, and Cape Breton maple ice cream.
“Traditionally, it would have been cooked over an open fire, we’ve modified it a bit for the classroom setting. It’s simple food, but it’s the best food,” LeBlanc said. “Those are the ingredients the First Nations would have found here and how they chose to re-invent it, we took it to a different level in terms of meeting curriculum outcomes, as we’re trying to marry the culinary arts side of the learning with where the tradition has brought us so far.”