Reclaiming Indigenous food traditions in the modern era

Chef David Wolfman launches book at Neechi Commons

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This article was published 31/10/2017 (1859 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Toronto chef is teaching people how to modernize Indigenous food traditions.

A Toronto chef is teaching people how to modernize Indigenous food traditions.

On Oct. 26, chef David Wolfman was at Neechi Commons to launch his book Cooking with the Wolfman. In his book, Wolfman and his wife Marlene Finn share Indigenous recipes from both their mothers with a contemporary twist.

“We had a lot of fun with them in modernizing some of the techniques. We fused some international flavour with southern ways of cooking,” Wolfman said.

Supplied photo Chef David Wolfman modernizes traditional Indigenous cooking techniques in his book Cooking with the Wolfman.

Wolfman shares stories of his introduction to Indigenous cuisine as a child growing up in Toronto, and as a young chef who learned about Indigenous culture through First Nations, Métis and Inuit friends in the Toronto Indigenous community rather than through connections to his mother’s First Nations relatives in British Columbia.

“We wanted to respect our culture and our traditional Indigenous foods. We have some traditional methods of cooking, but not everybody can just light a fire in their backyards. We’re still respecting our traditional cooking, but in a contemporary way,” he explained. “It’s a book about how they can celebrate our customs and traditions in a modern way.”

His goal was to give people a tool where they could enjoy food and spend more time enjoying food and conversing with one another which is another Indigenous culture, he said. Also, the recipes are easy to be used by all. There are in it that teaches how to measure the food and temperature. 

“It’s keeping our culture alive. If we want to keep something alive, we have to talk about it. The more we converse about it, the more we’re keeping it going. Otherwise, we’ll forget about it, and it will disappear,” he said. “I’m reclaiming my heritage one bite at a time.”

About 90 per cent of his recipes use ingredients that are Indigenous. For example, a pemmican recipe uses buffalo and Saskatoon berries. Another salad recipe has wild grapes, strawberries, nuts, sorrel, and a dressing made from mashed avocados and maple syrup. Some of the seasonings used throughout the book are juniper berries, cedar, garlic, and onion — all traditional ingredients.

Wolfman created the first college-level Aboriginal cuisine program in Canada when he became a professor of culinary arts at George Brown College in 1994 and started hosting his own cooking program on APTN in 1999. Cooking with the Wolfman aired in Canada for 18 years and is now airing on FNX and NativeFlix in the U.S. He continues to teach and consult as a restaurant consultant, hospitality career educator, special events menu designer, Indigenous tourism consultant, cooking demonstrator, and producer of culinary knives.

Cooking with the Wolfman is available at Neechi Commons for $29.95

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