Famed Indigenous chefs team up for Vancouver dinner series

Bison loin, charred squash with bannock, seal tataki. Those are just a few of the dishes that will be served up by a trio of Indigenous chefs who are coming together for a unique culinary collaboration in Vancouver on Wednesday.

‘I want them to get a taste for our history, our future,’ says Christa Bruneau-Guenther

Four chefs will be teaming up in the Edible Canada kitchen in Vancouver on Wednesday for an one-off culinary event. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Bison loin, charred squash with bannock, seal tataki. Those are just a few of the dishes that will be served up by a trio of Indigenous chefs who are coming together for a unique culinary collaboration in Vancouver on Wednesday.

Chefs Shane Chartrand, Christa Bruneau-Guenther and Rich Francis will be teaming up in the kitchen with Tobias Grignon at Edible Canada to plate an eight-course ticketed dinner, put on through the Dine Out Vancouver World Chef Exchange series.

Shane Chartrand is the executive chef at Sage in Enoch, Alta., and is working on a cookbook called Marrow.

"It's gonna be awesome," said Shane Chartrand who is executive chef at Sage restaurant, located in the River Cree Resort and Casino in Enoch, Alta.

"This is the first Indigenous collaboration I've ever been in. In my opinion, this is an opportunity for us all to have our stories heard."

Chartrand chose to take on the dessert course and will be preparing a roasted beet cake, with wild flour honey and verjus syrup, purple mountain huckleberry espuma, maple brown butter sauce and a bannock crumble.

"I picked everything very, very Indigenous," he said of the ingredients he's chosen, adding that all of the chefs will be helping each other prepare and plate their dishes.  

More than food

While having a great meal is an obvious priority for the chefs, it's about much more than food. Chartrand said for him, this is a way to open up communication between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people — to build relationships.

Christa Bruneau-Guenther makes a similar point when asked what she hopes people will take away from the experience.

"I just hope people walk away with feeling more than just the food in their mouth. I want them to feel it spirituality. I want them to get a taste for our history, our future and who we are as a people," she said.

Bruneau-Guenther is from Peguis First Nation in Manitoba and the owner of the Indigenous restaurant Feast Café Bistro in Winnipeg. She'll be taking on the main course of the meal: bison loin with a wild berry glaze, wild rice, fry bread and fire-roasted roots.

She describes herself as the grassroots, home cook in the group, much less "chef-y" than Chartrand, Francis and Grignon.

"I was a little intimidated when I knew who I was going to be cooking with, but I think they're going to teach me a few things," she said.

Bruneau-Guenther is a self-taught chef who made her way onto the restaurant scene through an unconventional route — running a daycare, where she found herself increasingly interested in traditional foods.

Christa Bruneau-Guenther serves bison burgers at her restaurant, Feast Bistro Café, in Winnipeg. (Kim Wheeler/CBC)

Eventually, as word got around about her culinary work, she said she was encouraged to open a restaurant. She said after doing some research, and realizing how few First Nations restaurants are operating across the country, she decided to go for it.

"I really felt an obligation and a responsibility to showcase as many traditional foods as I could," she said.

'It's a part of the culture that is due the right kind of attention'

For Tobias Grignon, the culinary director at Edible Canada, Wednesday's Dine Out event is a welcome chance to collaborate with chefs who each have their own unique approach to food. He sees Francis and Chartrand in particular as part of a distinct movement in Indigenous cuisine.

Rich Francis is a powerhouse on the Indigenous food scene perhaps best known as being a finalist on Top Chef Canada. He's also written a cookbook called Closing the Gap: Truth and Reconciliation Through Indigenous Foods, has multiple TV projects in the works and is in the process of opening his own restaurant in Saskatoon.

"[Rich and Shane] are creating something new while still celebrating their culture and to me that's really really exciting," Grignon said.

"They're really bringing that French technique but they're really applying it to their culture and bringing their culture through."

Rich Francis prepares a salmon for a dish inspired by what his grandmother used to feed him for breakfast. His cooking includes both contemporary and traditional Indigenous dishes and methods. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

On the flipside, Grignon said he's looking forward to having Bruneau-Guenther in the kitchen, to bring those community classics to the table.

"Just to be able to cook with talented chefs and see their approach to food is always exciting."

Grignon credited the owner of Edible Canada, Eric Pateman, for coming up with the idea for the Dine Out collaboration. He sees Indigenous cuisines increasingly getting the attention they deserve across Canada.

"It's a part of the culture that is due the right kind of attention," he said.

Chartrand said he welcomes the increasing attention paid to Indigenous chefs like himself, Francis and Bruneau-Guenther.

"Twelve years ago if I talked about Indigenous food, people would laugh at me," he said.  

Tickets for the Indigenous World Chef Exchange event Wednesday night are being sold for $195 a piece.