July 3, 2020

Winnipeg
25° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Subscribe

A veritable feast

Chef Christa Bruneau-Guenther is passionate about First Nations fare

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/7/2019 (338 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Christa Bruneau-Guenther never wanted to open a restaurant.

Chef's table

Click to Expand

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

What the owner and head chef of Feast Café Bistro did want, however, was to raise the profile and accessibility of local food rooted in Indigenous tradition.

Bruneau-Guenther, 42, discovered her passion for food while running a daycare in the West End.

Many of the kids who attended her daycare lived in poverty and didn’t have access to regular healthy meals at home — a reality that led to behaviour and learning issues in the classroom. The solution? Create a daily meal, gardening and cooking program for her charges and their families.

The initiative hit closer to home when she discovered a version of the Canadian Food Guide geared towards First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. It included foods like squash, medicinal plants, hazelnuts and wild game, such as bison.

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>After running a daycare business in the area, Feast Café Bistro owner Christa Bruneau-Guenther feels connected to the community in the West End.</p>

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press

After running a daycare business in the area, Feast Café Bistro owner Christa Bruneau-Guenther feels connected to the community in the West End.

"There were all these ingredients on this food guide that I was not familiar with and it was like a lightbulb went off for me," she says. "What I started realizing is that you can connect to your culture through food. It was the most powerful thing I had ever experienced, and it was the same for the children and the parents. You get a sense of identity and self-worth and pride."

Bruneau-Guenther is a member of Peguis First Nation, but growing up in Winnipeg she didn’t know much about her Indigenous heritage — a product of her family’s experiences in the residential school system, she says.

Shaved bison with juniper berries, traditional herbs, sautéed peppers and mushrooms. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

Shaved bison with juniper berries, traditional herbs, sautéed peppers and mushrooms. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

In the last 15 years, she’s developed hundreds of her own recipes and endeavoured to learn everything she can about cooking with Manitoba’s native plants and animals.

The opportunity to become a restaurateur fell into Bruneau-Guenther’s lap when she was asked by New Life Ministries to take over the vacant Ellice Café and Theatre building. She said no initially, but changed her tune when she realized there was only a handful of restaurants in Canada, at that time, focusing on First Nations fare.

"I just felt a real responsibility because I had this food knowledge and passion."

She opened Feast in December 2016 and her work has since been featured by the Food Network, Chatelaine and Canadian Living.

Despite the international acclaim, community comes first for Bruneau-Guenther, who makes a point of hiring staff with barriers to employment, sourcing ingredients from Indigenous producers and keeping menu prices low.

Pickerel dinner with wild rice and vegetables. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

Pickerel dinner with wild rice and vegetables. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

 

Eva Wasney

Do you have formal culinary training?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

None. Zero.

Eva Wasney

What was it like for you to come into a restaurant environment and learn how that worked?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

It was very different because I had watched from a distance when I was a server years and years ago, but I usually cook for my family of five and now I had to do it for a hundred people. I learned a lot about math and doing things in bulk was a big learning experience for me. I am blessed with an aunt who works in an old folks home and does a lot of cooking for many people, so she kind of helped train me a little bit.

Eva Wasney

Would you describe your family as a foodie family?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

No, I think they’re all meat-and-potatoes humble. We all grew up in the North End so poverty was an issue for us and honestly I didn’t grow up eating anything fancy. Didn’t have a lot of take-out because we couldn’t afford that. My mom did have a mini garden where she grew the basics.

 

 

 

Eva Wasney

Do you have any dishes from childhood or family members that stick out in your mind?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

My grandpa’s chili, which is on the menu but I’ve modified it with things like real garlic instead of garlic powder and real onions and things like that. I learned how to make pickerel from my dad and the baked bannock recipe that I originally started with at Feast was from another aunt of mine, she was the elder of the family.

Eva Wasney

What ingredient is always in your fridge or pantry?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

Wild rice, bison… onions and garlic and I’ll always have squash from winter to summer from my garden.

Eva Wasney

Do you have a signature dish?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

I do a turkey wild rice soup with some traditional beans that is a family favourite.

 

 

 

Eva Wasney

How would you describe your culinary style?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

I would say family-style for sure. I don’t like the term Indigenous-fusion because it’s just what’s reality for me being a family person. It’s like, how do I cook my traditional foods mixed with everyday foods and still connect to that as my culture?

Eva Wasney

What’s your go-to dish to cure a cold or a flu when somebody in the house isn’t feeling well?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

Definitely some sort of a soup. If you have turkey bones or chicken bones or bison bones, you can boil them down with juniper berries and sweetgrass and sage and other traditional medicines. Then you have this broth that is milky and full of medicine and you can add corn and beans and other vegetables and wild ginger to that.

Eva Wasney

What’s your guilty pleasure meal?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

Those stupid Mr. Noodles (packages), but I will slice up mushrooms and chives from my garden and I’ll add that in with maybe some kale or Swiss chard.

Eva Wasney

In the same vein, do you have a favourite fast food?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

If I’m going to do it, it’s an A&W Teen Burger, or I also find picking up sushi pretty quick too.

Eva Wasney

Is there anything you can’t or won’t eat?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

No, I’ll try anything and everything once and if it doesn’t taste good I’ll create a recipe to make it taste good.

 

 

 

Eva Wasney

What’s your proudest moment as a chef?

Christa Bruneau-Guenther

I know it’s going to sound cheesy, but honestly when you see a staff member create something of their own. That’s my proudest moment.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read full biography

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.