Yellowknife gets introduction to seal meat at Long John Jamboree

'[Seal meat has] an incredible amount of iron, it’s super healthy for you,' said Francois Rossouw. 'It keeps you regular too.'

Chefs prepare seal tartare, seal pate and seared seal loin

Members of the public had the chance to try seal meat at the Long John Jamboree on Friday afternoon. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

It's plentiful, it's nutritious and by and large, Canadians rarely get the chance to try it.

"[Seal meat has] an incredible amount of iron, it's super healthy for you," said Francois Rossouw.

"It keeps you regular too."  

Rossouw manages a fur program offered by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment. The department worked with the Yellowknife Inuit Association to put on seal workshops this week at Yellowknife's Long John Jamboree.

One of those workshops gave local chefs the chance to learn how to prepare seal, and gives the public an opportunity to try the result of those culinary efforts.

Chef Joseph Shawana, left, takes a moment with Julia Pokiak-Trennert. Shawana was there to show off seal-based food choices, and Pokiak-Trennert was sharing beautiful crafts made from sealskin. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

Joseph Shawana is the chef with Ku-Kum Kitchen, a Toronto restaurant that boasts an Indigenous menu. He hosted the workshops.

Shawana said one of his restaurant's goals is to highlight Indigenous foods from across Canada, especially northern communities.

"They don't have a lot of representation," he said. "I thought just by having one seal dish on our menu … I could pay my respects to our northern brothers and sisters."

Shawana said the workshop taught local chefs how to cook seal, how to market it, and how to bring it into Yellowknife.

"I'm classically trained in French cuisine," said Shawana. "So I use all my techniques that I learned just to do everything with trial and error until we found exactly what worked. We went through about 20 different types of oil to cook the seal in, and found that clarified butter works best."

Seal tartare, pate and seared loin

Ethan Mackenzie works for Kitikmeot Larga, managing the kitchen for a medical boarding home. He's interested in learning how to incorporate wild game into his meal prep.

Mackenzie says working with seal for the first time has been a positive experience.

"It was quite good," he said. "It wasn't intimidating. It wasn't off-putting or strong smelling. I imagine it will be quite versatile."

The class learned how to create seal tartare, then moved on to seared seal loin and seal pate.

The seared seal loin was simple — cooked in a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. It was paired with a variety of foods, including saskatoon berries, cloudberries, elderflower syrup and wild rose syrup.

Rossouw explained the seal meat for the workshop was sourced through a company called SeaDNA. The meat is harvested by Canadian sealers on the Magdalen Islands and processed right on the boats.

"When they get it, they vacuum seal it and it is certified for export from Canada," said Rossouw. "So it meets all the requirements within Canada for hotel and restaurant use."

He said he is working with the N.W.T. Health Department and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to create seal processing plants in the territory, so local sealers can get into the industry.

"We're not that far away from it," said Rossouw. "I believe within the next two years, we should be able to do that."

Written by Randi Beers, based from interviews by Juanita Taylor