Manitoba chef puts wild things, local invasive species on the menu

A Manitoba chef who is fresh off an educational trip to Nordic countries is putting what she learned overseas about eating local on the menu in Winnipeg.

Clandess Diner co-founder inspired by Nordic food movement, trip to Swedish Arctic

A Manitoba chef who is fresh off an educational trip to Nordic countries is putting what she learned overseas about eating local on the menu in Winnipeg.

Anna Sigrithur, co-founder of Clandess Diner, recently returned to Winnipeg after studying the Nordic food movement and "gastro-culture" in Denmark and the Swedish Arctic for six months.

The Nordic food movement started about a decade ago.

Chefs in the area began to forego classical culinary staples — both ingredients and techniques —  in search of local alternatives. In doing so, they defined and rediscovered what many call a ecosystem-based flavour palette for the Nordic region of Europe. 
Anna Sigrithur (pictured) and Nathan Enns are the operate Clandess Diner. (Anna Sigrithur)

"I was just really, really curious with how we could make better use of the things that we have around us," Sigrithur said.

For two months in northern Sweden, Sigrithur lived with a community of reindeer herders.

She learned about traditional foods and survival skills from a small group of indigenous people from northern Scandinavia.  

Lyla, a Sami reindeer herder, taught Sigrithur how to forage and harvest things from the forest as well as aspects of traditional food preparation and how to "respect and interact with the wild ingredients."

Nordic Food Lab

The next four months she spent in Copenhagen doing an internship at the Nordic Food Lab.

"They are sort of an academic, mad-scientist, amazing facility trying to come up with new techniques and ways to use Nordic ingredients there," she said.

She helped conduct a series of fermentation experiments with plant materials that are high in cellulose, "trying to break them down using various different kinds of microbes that are found in reindeer."

Sigrithur said she is now applying what she learned overseas here in Manitoba.

"We have a lot of similar constituents of our ecosystems in terms of plants and animals, so there are a lot of techniques that the new Nordic movement has sort of developed that I think would be really easy to apply to Manitoba foods," she said.

Eating 'delicious' invasives

Sigrithur has several menus on her website that reflect her local focus. A beef and beaver ravioli entree appears on one menu; others use local invasive species like the rusty crayfish, which are found in eastern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.

"Sometimes when things move into ecosystems we call them 'invasive,' and one way to battle that, if we do find it to be a real problem … is to eat these species if they're delicious," she said.

The invasive crayfish species is a good, tasty example, Sigrithur said.

"It's quite delicious," she said. "It's been polluting the waterways in the Whiteshell and Falcon Lake area. Eat them, I say."

Not every invasive species that ends up on the experimental plate ends up being palatable in the end, but Sigrithur doesn't get discouraged.

"What we consider edible now is different from the past, but also … more things are edible than we consider," she said.

Secrets to the menu for the next big dinner she is hosting on Jan. 22 are being kept under wraps, but Sigrithur did provide a bit of a teaser: "boreal forest, Mexican plating, at least for one of the courses."

For more information about Sigrithur's Nordic-inspired local creations, visit the Clandess Diner website.


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