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This article was published 1/11/2017 (1445 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Storytelling bonds people and builds cultures.
A good cookbook can be the platform for that, recounting stories of shared times, detailing ways to preserve and maintain traditions. Cooking with the Wolfman: Indigenous Fusion by David Wolfman and Marlene Finn (Douglas & McIntyre, $29.95) is just such a book filled with the recipes and stories, collected from the families and friends of Wolfman (of the Xaxli’p First Nation), with his wife and partner Finn (of the Métis Nation of Ontario).
It honours Indigenous cultural and culinary traditions combined with classical techniques and ingredients and brings it all into the 21st century. This is Wolfman’s signature repertoire — he calls it "Indigenous fusion."
Readers may remember Wolfman from his days as a TV chef on APTN (he’s now on FNX and NativeFlix). He’s also a professor at the culinary school at George Brown College in Toronto. Finn is an education consultant, former director of the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards and former vice-president of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.
Together, they deliver cooking demonstrations and workshops on Indigenous food and family nutrition, and establish First Nations restaurants. This is their first cookbook.
"As I’ve been talking about this book, I realized how much I’ve been talking about my mom, and how much my mom shared — and I hadn’t realized how much I had actually listened, which I thought was quite good," says Wolfman.
Marlene Finn concurs.
"I relied on my mom, who’s 91, to retell stories that I’d heard over and over again, but it wasn’t until I sat down to actually type them out that I realized I didn’t have all the details," says Finn.
It was difficult to get them right when the ingredients weren’t always available; it meant a lot of corrections on some of the recipes.
"We did get the stamp of approval when we did one of the recipes and Marlene’s mom took a bite and she just closed her eyes," says Wolfman.
"We made buffalo pemmican for her. My parents moved to Toronto in the ’50s, and I don’t think she’s had pemmican since she was a child," says Finn.
"That was a moment and it’s really hard to put that into words, because it’s something I won’t forget."
Wolfman had a similar experience years ago with his late mother.
"I dried salmon in a dehydrator, and when I gave it to my mom, and she ate it and said: ‘Who sent this to you?’" he says.
"It was like she couldn’t believe that I had made it, but it was one of those moments. It was like bringing home back to them."
The book is strong on the details of kitchen essentials, food-handling techniques and nutrition. Game is featured in many of the recipe, so this is essential information.
"David was insistent from the beginning that this had to be practical and it had to be very explicit in terms of the instructions, the measurements/conversions, and the ingredients," says Finn.
"He really wanted it to be very reliable but not too technical, and I think that’s due to his training as a professor."
"The other thing is that it is also Indigenous fusion," says Wolfman. "For example, we fused a lot of the international flavours or methods, or we fused some other ways with our Indigenous cousins in the south or the north with some of the techniques that we used."
Finding authentic ingredients has been tricky in the past.
"I remember 20 or 30 years ago, when I was running my catering company if I had to get something and there was no internet…" says Wolfman.
"…You had to beg, borrow and steal to get your hands on certain things," says Finn.
"But now there are more people selling these unusual types of things — grains that they’re making flour from, wild rice, smoked salmon, birch syrups, heirloom beans and spruce tips."
With better access to traditional foods and an enthusiastic role model in Wolfman, the book has the potential to inspire people who want to pursue a career in the culinary arts.
"I think the key is having a passion for it," says Wolfman.
"If you have a passion for food and cooking, you won’t worry about having to get up in the morning because you love it, and you’ll stay until the job’s done."
Finn sees interest among Indigenous people.
"We’re seeing more Indigenous people graduating from culinary school, opening restaurants, getting their names in the paper, and I think over time, that has a tremendous impact on their economic potential, she says.
"I think a lot of that is through role-modelling, as well as the fact that a lot of aboriginal people are now developing a greater sense of pride in this type of food."
"We’re reclaiming our heritage one bite at a time," Wolfman says.
Here are two of Chef David Wolfman’s specialty dishes from Cooking with the Wolfman: Indigenous Fusion (recipes and photos reprinted with permission from Douglas & McIntyre, $29.95).
Hot-Smoked Winnipeg Goldeye Chowder
Makes 6 to 8 servings
For this chowder, you could also use store-bought hot-smoked trout or smoked salmon.
12 crushed black peppercorns
2 dried bay leaves
5 ml (1 tsp) dried rosemary
5 ml (1 tsp) dried thyme
Make a spice bag with a square of cheesecloth, double-layered. Place ingredients in middle of square and tie four corners together so nothing falls out.
2 whole (about 200 g/7 oz each) hot-smoked Winnipeg goldeye
2 l (8 cups) homemade fish stock or store-bought unsalted fish stock
8 oz (225 g) diced bacon
500 ml (2 cups) diced onion
250 ml (1 cups) diced celery
10 ml (2 tsp) finely chopped garlic
500 ml (2 cups) diced potato
5 ml (1 tsp) kosher salt (or sea salt)
1 cob roasted corn or drained canned niblet corn
5 ml (1 tsp) cornstarch
30 ml (2 tbsp) water
250 ml (1 cup) 18 per cent cream
GARNISH: Chopped fresh herbs or sea asparagus (optional)
Prepare the spice bag and set aside.
Remove skin and bones from fish and reserve. The bones are hard to find, so do this job by a sunny window. Flake the flesh into a small bowl and set aside.
Heat stock in a stockpot almost to the boiling point. Add the fish bones, skin, fish head, tail and trimmings, and heat to the boiling point. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain the stock using a fine sieve or strainer into a pitcher.
Clean the pot and return to heat. Add the bacon and sauté for five to seven minutes. Add onion and celery, and cook for five more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
Add potato and strained stock, and bring to a simmer. Add the spice bag and salt, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add the corn and simmer for another five minutes. Then add the deboned smoked fish flesh.
To thicken the chowder, mix the cornstarch and water thoroughly in a small bowl and pour it into the pot. Bring the chowder back to a simmer and whisk. Add the cream and simmer on medium heat for two minutes.
Remove spice bag before serving the chowder with sea asparagus or a garnish of your choice.
White Bean and Collard Green Ragout
Makes 4 servings
Collard greens are kissing cousins to cabbage, broccoli and kale and are considered to be among the world’s healthiest foods.
15 ml (1 tbsp) pure olive oil
225 g (1/2 lb) diced bacon (or salt pork)
250 ml (1 cup) diced onion
15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped garlic
900 g (2 lb) fresh collard greens
750 ml (3 cup) home made white stock, or store-bought unsalted chicken stock
1 can (560 ml/19 fl oz) white beans, drained and rinsed (preferably navy beans, cannellini beans or great northern beans)
1 can (830 ml/28 fl oz) low-sodium stewed tomatoes, drained and cut into quarters
5 ml (1 tsp) sriracha (or other hot sauce)
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) ground black pepper
Heat a Dutch oven over very low heat for 10 minutes. Heat oil, and the add bacon, turn up the heat to high and cook for three minutes. Lower heat to medium and cook for ve more minutes or longer if necessary, until meat is crispy and brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon and place on a plate lined with paper towel.
Add onion to the pot and sauté until translucent (about ve minutes). Add the garlic and sauté for two minutes.
Rinse and dry collard greens very thoroughly to remove sand. Remove the white centre ribs with a knife. Chop leaves into bite-sized pieces. Add to the pot and sauté until the greens start to soften (about two minutes).
Heat the stock in a microwave or on the stovetop almost to the boiling point. Add the stock, beans, tomatoes, sriracha and pepper to the pot. Let the mixture come to a boil.
Lower the heat and return the bacon bits to the pot. Let the mixture simmer over medium to low heat, covered, for 45 minutes.
Note: If you use salt pork instead of bacon you could end up with few, if any, crispy brown bits at the end. This is OK, since it is the liquid fat that will flavour the beans and collard greens.