The smells and tastes of smoked meats, drying fish and tea have never left Chef Rich Francis, even though he no longer lives in the Northwest Territories.
Rich Francis is originally from Fort McPherson, N.W.T. His father is Gwich'in, his mother is Haudenosaunee. The father of three now lives on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, where he owns and operates a culinary business.
“My concept is just to take aboriginal cuisine down a road that it's never been before.”
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Francis will compete on Top Chef in March in hopes of revolutionizing what is known as Canadian cuisine.
“My background is fine dining ... but ultimately I try to keep things as pre-contact, which means before European contact, or Spanish contact, for that matter.”
He cooks with ingredients that are indigenous to Canada, just as his ancestors did. Then he gives it a modern twist.
“The vastness of aboriginal food on Turtle Island is huge...let's be honest, in the past it's been pretty boring,” said Francis.
“We no longer have to hunt and gather for survival any more so now we can be a little more creative in our approach to our food.”
His wife Dakota Brant says he's the best Top Chef, because his style of cooking couldn't be more Canadian.
“The foods that are indigenous from here, the caribou, the muskox, the traditional food that come from this land...they're not being represented in a way that's authentic to the landscape to here ... and who better to be a representative of that than an indigenous person?”
'The vastness of aboriginal food on Turtle Island is huge...let's be honest, in the past it's been pretty boring.' - Chef Rich Francis
And what he brings to the table truly stood out to the person who selected him for the show.
"Rich ... has a real presence. There's a confidence, there's a charm.... like he's a really good looking guy. So he's made for TV that way,” explained Cliff Dempster, producer & casting director; Top Chef Canada.
“But it's also...being on a culinary competition show like top chef — you need to walk into that competition and people are going to size you up. So he has that strength and he backs it up with his culinary skills.”
He's already done the filming, but can't say how well he did until it airs on the Food Network March 10.
Either way, Francis plans to continue to bring modern aboriginal cuisine to the mainstream.