Six Nations chef brings modern Iroquois cuisine, food sovereignty to Montreal

Chef Rich Francis drove from Six Nations of the Grand River this week, not only to showcase his take on modern Iroquois cuisine, but to share how he puts the philosophy of food sovereignty in practice.

‘I kind of want to be a trailblazer,’ says visiting chef Rich Francis

Chef Rich Francis was in Montreal for Concordia's First Voices Week. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

The ingredients in chef Rich Francis' arsenal came from this land, but they are still relatively foreign to Montrealers' palates.

He drove from Six Nations of the Grand River reserve this week, not only to showcase his take on modern Iroquois cuisine, but to share how he puts the philosophy of food sovereignty into practice.

"Food sovereignty, I think, is our ability to sustain ourselves as First Nations people based on our Indigenous food pathways," Francis said.

He is the chef and owner of a catering company called Seventh Fire Hospitality Group.

Like many chefs, Francis relies heavily on local and regionally-sourced ingredients, but his focus is on traditional ingredients, some of which are hunted, fished or gathered.

White corn from Kahnawake is passed down from generation to generation. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

When he cooked for First Voices Week at Concordia University, he served traditional Iroquois white corn, sturgeon from the St. Lawrence and moose.

Brooke Rice, or Katsi'tsaronkwas in the Mohawk language, helped provide the visiting chef with those ingredients — some of which came from the community garden in Kahnawake.

"Food sovereignty is the ability to go in your backyard, have your garden, have access to the fish in the waters, any animals in the woods without any restrictions and legal limitations," said Rice, also a student in the department of First People Studies at Concordia.

Rice said the white corn is passed down through the generations and has deep cultural ties.

"We have stories and teachings of our creation story, which encompasses the three sisters: corn, beans and squash," Rice said.

Brooke Rice, a First People Studies student at Concordia, brought ingredients from her community to share at First Voices Week. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

The three ingredients are staples in many First Nations diets.

The sturgeon came from Rice's relative, and the moose meat was donated from her community.

It's with centuries-old traditions like fishing, hunting and, most importantly, sharing that Francis wishes to create something "brand new" for Indigenous culinary arts.

But serving hunted game is illegal in the majority of restaurants, both in Ontario and Quebec.

Chef Rich Francis of Six Nations of the Grand River trimming Atlantic sturgeon fillets. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

In Quebec, the restriction is mainly due to the risk of food-borne illnesses caused by pathogens carried by wild animals.

Francis said he's willing to take this issue to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"I kind of want to be a trailblazer," Francis said.

Although he has every right to sell dishes featuring wild game in Six Nations, Francis thinks it's unacceptable that he can't share his modern Indigenous cuisine in a large Canadian city, particularly given the current context of reconciliation.

"I think right now, what we're trying to do is find our culinary identity outside of cultural genocide and colonialism," he said.