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Métis food and history will be the star of the show at Ishkode’s Festival du Voyageur dinner series in February.
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Ishkode: The Métis Nation — A Journey in Time
● Feb. 14-16 and Feb. 20-22
● St. Boniface City Hall, 219 Provencher Blvd.
● Tickets $99 and $149 with wine pairings at ishkode.ca. Prices include single-day ticket to Festival du Voyageur.
The pop-up catering business, which highlights modern Indigenous cuisine, held its inaugural event last October with a focus on pre-colonial foods. During the sold-out five-day event, Winnipeg chefs Steven Watson, Melissa Brown and Glenna Henderson were tasked with using ingredients that would only be found in Manitoba prior to the arrival of white settlers — meaning such items as flour, farmed meat and dairy were off the table.
The second edition of Ishkode (which means "fire" in Anishinaabe) casts a wider net. Instead of focusing on a moment in time, the chefs will create a menu based on the story of a Métis family in Manitoba over several generations.
Guests will be taken on a six-course culinary journey through colonization, where farming was introduced; into the Red River Rebellion, where wild game and fish were dietary staples; and back to the current century, where modern ingredients will come into play.
"They’re going to tell the story of this fictional Métis lineage through history and the very last chapter is going to be their own existence," says Winnipeg restaurateur and Ishkode organizer Noel Bernier.
The dinner takes place at St. Boniface City Hall and is a partnership with Festival du Voyageur. There will be six seatings beginning on Feb. 14; they will be hosted by Métis artist Nicole LeClair with musical accompaniment from fiddler Blaine Constant.
Chefs Watson, Brown and Henderson will be joined in the kitchen by a new Ishkode team member, Rachel Sansregret.
Each chef will design a different menu for each night of the pop-up. Sansregret says her dishes are going to be inspired by her own family food memories, including the macaroni casserole her Métis grandfather used to make.
"It’s something we used to eat when things were a little bit lean and it was the best comfort food — and something that I now watch my relatives prepare for their children," Sansregret says.
“Indigenous people were once the healthiest people in the world ‐ and then with colonialism, now they’re overrepresented in the health-care system with diet-related illnesses." — Winnipeg chef Melissa Brown
She started working in kitchens when she was 16 and has spent the latter part of her career learning to grow and cook with Indigenous foods — including squash, beans and corn — and sharing that knowledge with at-risk youth.
"When youth are presented with opportunities to learn how to cook and make healthy, low-cost food for themselves while using Indigenous ingredients, they jump at it," she says.
Community outreach and family connections are influences for all the Ishkode chefs.
Brown has been cooking since she was seven and found a passion for food sovereignty when she was at university. She spent much of her 20s teaching herself how to cook and travelling to Indigenous food summits across North America.
"Indigenous people were once the healthiest people in the world — and then with colonialism, now they’re overrepresented in the health-care system with diet-related illnesses," says Brown, who owns her own catering company, Brownee’s Urban Bistro, and runs traditional food workshops for youth aging out of CFS care.
Ishkode ticket holders can expect Brown’s menu to be filled with Indigenous staples and island heat — her mother is Ojibwe and her father is Jamaican.
"I’m drawing inspiration from my mom and my grandmother growing up on the land in Ear Falls, Ont., and I’ll be playing on my Caribbean side with spices," Brown says.
Henderson got involved with Ishkode when the dinner concept was in its infancy and has enjoyed sharing her home cooking with an upscale audience.
"I’m usually making food for lunches that’s affordable that people want to eat every day. Now I get this opportunity to use the best ingredients to find my own inspiration and also wow other people," says the owner of Cookem Daisey’s Catering and Events.
She discovered a love for cooking during her family’s regular Sunday dinners, when 30 to 40 of her relatives would gather for a meal.
"I learned right away if I started cooking, I didn’t have to do dishes," she says, laughing.
Her Ishkode menu will be a nod to those family meals, and her Métis, Cree and Ojibwe roots, with dishes inspired by bannock, steaks, meat pies and berries and cream.
"I’m going to be tapping into some of the old things that we used to eat and then try and present them in a different way," Henderson says.
For Watson, Ishkode is a way to reclaim some of the family recipes that were never passed down. His late grandmother was a ‘60s Scoop survivor who took to cooking cabbage rolls and perogies instead of the foods of her birth parents.
"We were raised very Ukrainian," Watson says. "One of the things that my grandmother did do that was native-influenced was bannock, so I can do something with that and use her recipe."
Watson is a chef instructor at Commonwealth College and has cooked at restaurants such as 529 Wellington and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta. His goal these days is to raise the prominence of Indigenous cuisine in Manitoba.
"There really is no Indigenous food history; it was cut off, it was drastically changed," he says. "What would Canadian food be had it been allowed to develop from 1491 to 2020?"
Watson sees Ishkode’s success so far — and the partnership with Festival du Voyageur — as a sign there is an appetite in Winnipeg for Indigenous food made by Indigenous chefs.
"For a time it was hidden, it was rejected, it was covered up," he says. "Now it is becoming mainstream. It is becoming an important part of local culture."
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.