Mi'kmaw mother of 5 pursues her dream of becoming a chef
'I love what I do and I'm proud of what I'm doing,' says Norma Condo
Norma Condo wants her journey of becoming a chef to be an inspiration to other single Indigenous mothers.
"Focus on what you want and don't let anything or anybody stop you from what you want to do," said Condo.
Condo, 41, is from Gesgapegiag, a Mi'kmaw community on Quebec's Gaspé coast, about 500 km east of Quebec City. She said her interest in cooking stems from watching her grandmother make traditional meals for their large family.
"I'm a proud Indigenous chef," said Condo.
"I love what I do and I'm proud of what I'm doing, and I'm proud to represent my community and bringing back traditional food.
Condo is a mother of five, with the oldest about to finish high school and youngest being five-year old twins.
Two years ago, she moved her family to Montreal to attend the Pearson School of Culinary Arts. Even before she was accepted into the program, Condo and her late husband Harold Northup drove nine hours for an information session at the school.
"They said because I'm so far, I could do a phone interview," she said.
"I wanted to be there. I wanted to prove to them this is how bad I want it."
Being a role model
But completing the 18-month program wasn't easy and had many unexpected obstacles, including the sudden death of her husband. He was stabbed to death on July 28, 2016 in Providence, R.I, just weeks before the program started.
"I was devastated. I was heartbroken," said Condo.
"But I said to myself that I came here for this. This is what I've been wanting and nothing is going to stop me from going after my goals. I have to be that role model for my kids and not give up on anything, no matter what comes through your way."
Condo said the program helped her cope with her recent loss. She graduated in 2017, and continued her schooling by taking a five-month market-fresh cuisine program and will be taking another intensive program come January for retail butcher.
"There's no butcher in my community," she said.
"I want to learn how to do butcheries, so when people will go hunting, I could do it, and I want to pass down my teachings to the young ones so that they know how to do it."
Representing her nation
Her passion and knowledge earned her a spot two years in a row representing her nation at À La Rencontre des Grands Chefs in August, a culinary event organized by Aboriginal Tourism Quebec that pairs Indigenous chefs from the 11 nations in the province with a non-Indigenous chef from Quebec City.
"We tried to find someone that really loves to cook, but also is able to talk about their culture," said Laurence Lainé, a representative of Aboriginal Tourism Quebec.
Lainé said Condo was exactly that.
Condo was paired with Nikolas Couture and had the opportunity to bring him to Gesgapegiag for a few days.
"The idea is everything that is behind the food. It's about meeting people, it's about sharing, it's about learning about the cultures," said Lainé.
Sharing and passing on traditional knowledge is exactly what Condo said she loves about cooking.
"I am able to show people, this is our food. This is our culture, and this is what we eat," said Condo.
"When I cook my moose meat, I'll boil cedar and take the liquid to braise the moose meat, then I'll cook it in the oven with cedar branches on top of it and slowly cook it. It's so good like that, and I'll use cranberries and strawberries and blueberries."
While Condo currently works in a kitchen in Montreal, after completing the butcher course, she hopes to bring her skills back to Gesgapegiag to open her own restaurant with an Indigenous menu highlighting traditional ways of cooking.