A menu of memories Manoomin Restaurant an opportunity for chef to bring Indigenous traditions, ingredients to the table
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/12/2022 (184 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
From the moment she saw the job posting, Jennifer Ballantyne knew this was an opportunity to fulfil a long-held dream.
“There was no hesitation for me,” says the executive chef of Manoomin Restaurant, the full-service eatery inside the new Wyndham Garden (Odé Aki) hotel owned by Long Plain First Nation. “I always wanted to do something Indigenous-inspired.”
Ballantyne is a member of Opaskwayak Cree Nation and grew up travelling throughout northern Manitoba with her grandparents, both of whom are pastors.
Food was always a family affair. Her uncles fished and hunted wild game — such as moose, deer and rabbit — the grandkids picked berries and the matriarchs turned it all into life-affirming soups, stews and jams. Tea and bannock were fixtures of prayer meetings and gospel gatherings.
Those warm, comforting memories served as inspiration while Ballantyne, a Red Seal chef, was creating the menu for Manoomin, which means “wild rice” in Ojibway.
“I wanted to dial in on homestyle favourites, what I was used to growing up, and utilizing ingredients that were familiar for me as a child,” she says, “while still trying to stay within the realm of traditional and modern.”
The bright, open restaurant is one of the first things to greet guests upon walking through the grand front entrance. The 132-room hotel, which opened in October, is situated on the three-acre Long Plain Madison Reserve in the Polo Park area. It’s a franchise of the global Wyndham hotel brand and is managed by Sparrow Hotels — a local company that also oversees Inn at the Forks, the Mere and Norwood hotels and their associated restaurants.
Manoomin is a few steps from the lobby and the hotel’s stylish Onishkaan Café, which translates to “get up” or “wake up.” Language and tradition are a big part of the overall design.
“In the morning, the front desk (staff) will smudge the whole place and they’ll ask anyone that’s around if they’d like to smudge,” says general manager Morgan Beaudry, adding that the majority of visitors are from First Nations across the country.
“I think it gives people a sense of pride,” she says of the cultural touches.
Manoomin’s dining room is filled with modern furniture. Sprigs of dried grasses sit in vases on each table and a golden eagle surveys the space from a colourful mural hand-painted by a Long Plain artist. A long bank of windows overlooks a patio accessible to diners in the warmer months.
Local and Indigenous ingredients — such as pickerel, squash, bison, bannock and wild rice — feature prominently in the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. Contemporary cooking and comfort food mingle together with dishes such as corn-crusted pickerel, bison chili and bologna fritters.
It’s the first time Ballantyne has been able to see herself in a menu.
“There was nothing I could relate to in the culinary industry,” she says, “There’s a lot of French cooking; traditionally, that’s what you learn.”
Growing up surrounded by the excellent cooking of her mom and granny, Ballantyne decided to pursue culinary arts as an adult. She studied at Red River College Polytechnic and worked in local fine-dining restaurants and bakeries upon graduation. Prior to Manoomin, she was the executive chef at Bridges Golf Course, cooking for large-scale events and banquets.
Beyond working with traditional ingredients in an Indigenous-owned establishment, Ballantyne is excited to be able to mentor the next generation of chefs.
“We have a kitchen where there are a lot of young Indigenous cooks and they’re excited because something about this resembles home,” she says, adding that she hopes to see a wider representation of Indigenous food locally in the future.
“Nobody is the same; my traditions may be different from somebody else’s… to see other people’s rendition of that would be great.”
Manoomin Restaurant, 460 Madison St.
Open daily, 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Although bannock is a relatively simple mixture of flour, water, baking powder and fat, chef Jennifer Ballantyne tested a dozen different recipes before landing on one that fit the bill for Manoomin. ‘
The bannock is mixed fresh daily and served baked or fried alongside myriad dishes, including the eggs Benedict and bison chili.
It’s the star ingredient, however, in the bannock tacos and dessert fritters. In both cases the dough is deep-fried, encasing the light, fluffy crumbs in a crispy, golden crust. The taco is served as a large piece of bannock piled high with seasoned ground bison, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, crunchy taco chips and cheddar.
As a dessert, the bannock resembles a doughnut, rolled in sugar and served with a Saskatoon-berry compote — a nod to Ballantyne’s childhood spent picking berries.
Tasting Notes is an ongoing series about Winnipeg restaurants, new and old, meant to offer diners a glimpse at what’s on the menu.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, December 6, 2022 8:56 AM CST: Fixes typo