Indigenous chefs teach Chuck Hughes about culture and cuisine in new cooking travel show
'It was pretty surreal standing there with this guy who I looked up to,' says Anishinaabe chef Cezin Nottaway
A new television show has celebrity chef Chuck Hughes visiting Indigenous chefs across the country to learn more about their communities' cuisine and its connection to culture.
Anishinaabe chef Cezin Nottaway co-hosts the first episode of Chuck and the First Peoples' Kitchen, where Hughes travels to Nottaway's community, Kitigan Zibi, Que., to learn about harvesting maple water.
Nottaway, chef and owner of Wawatay Catering, said Hughes approached her a couple of years ago after the two had worked together at a few events, to share an idea he had for a show that he had pitched to APTN. He asked if she would like to be part of it and she agreed, though she said she tried to play it cool just in case it didn't happen.
Nottaway said getting the official call to join the show was exciting but also nerve racking.
"What do I teach this guy who has travelled all around the world?" she asked.
"It was pretty surreal standing there with this guy who I looked up to, showing him things."
She said Hughes didn't know how to clean a beaver, which is something that comes natural for her, having grown up on the land.
"I've been doing that since for as long as I can remember as long as I could hold a knife," she said.
The filming took place almost a year ago, and Nottaway said they were able to have a fall feast where she invited family and a few friends.
"I felt really honoured and privileged to be able to do that and represent our Anishinaabe miijim [food] as well," she said.
Indigenous cuisine gaining mainstream attention
The new show is just the latest production where Indigenous cuisine is being presented to a more mainstream audience.
Last year, documentary series Red Chef Revival brought together Nottaway with Cree chef Shane Chartrand (Chopped Canada Season 2) and Six Nations chef Rich Francis (Season 4 of Top Chef Canada) as they explored Indigenous cuisine across the country.
Nottaway said the attention being paid to Indigenous cuisine is great because of the rich history and cultural significance.
"If you're going to be on this land, it's important you know the histories of our people but also the history of our food, because food is such an important part of our lives," she said.
She said it's also important that people respect animals while they're being prepared as food.
"You don't just slap a piece of meat on the table," she said.
"We don't just throw the bones back in the bush, we place them back in the bush. I think it's very important that people know, acknowledge and respect indigenous cuisine because we don't just kill an animal, there's a ceremony to it."
Learning along the way
Hughes, co-owner and executive chef of Garde Manger and Le Bremner in Montreal, has starred in a number of television cooking shows like Chuck's Day Off and Chuck's Eat the Street and has also published two best-selling cookbooks.
Prior to shooting the show, Hughes says his exposure to Indigenous culture and cuisine was limited.
While in cooking school he used to watch Cooking with the Wolfman with David Wolfman who is from Xaxli'p First Nation, B.C., and during one Food Network Canada show where he travelled across Canada he harvested wild rice, but he said those experiences were just enough to pique his interest.
"Obviously I did not know enough, and I still don't," he said.
Hughes describes himself as a co-host of the show because wherever they went, he was the one learning.
"Everyone I met along the way are more of the showcase."
Hughes said it's difficult to choose one experience or cuisine featured in the show that stands out because it was all so different but shared his experience having Arctic char in Nunavut.
"I've had Arctic char before; I've had it in the restaurants before. I've served it; I buy it from Northern Quebec," said Hughes.
"But to eat it there on the land in the way that the Inuit do it, it's something so familiar in a way that's completely different that I've never experienced before."
The show has 13 episodes, each featuring a different community cuisine like beaver and maple syrup, Arctic char and ptarmigan. He travels to communities in Quebec, Ontario, Nunavut, P.E.I. and Newfoundland.
"Hopefully the viewer will like what they see and learn as well," he said.
Chuck and the First Peoples' Kitchen premieres Thursday on APTN.