Reconciliation through food: Chef Rich Francis seeks a return to traditional Indigenous cooking.

Date01 March 2020
AuthorKelly, Lindsay

Sit down for a meal at Chef Rich Francis' table and there is no fry-bread to be found.

"I will never teach my cooks how to make bannock," said Francis, a Six Nations of the Grand River chef whose aim is to see traditional food systems restored to Indigenous peoples.

I'll never teach them how to do that food system that almost killed us.

Bannock--a doughy, deep-fried bread popular at powwows and festivals --was never part of Indigenous cuisine in pre-colonial Canada.

But after being introduced by Europeans in the 19th century, bannock and similar fatty, sugary fare became staples in Indigenous diets, supplanting more historical foods and contributing to the population's rising levels of obesity and diabetes.

It's time, Francis believes, for Canada's original peoples to take back control of their relationship with food.

"In order to reinvent something, we first have to rediscover it," said Francis, who is of Haudenosaunee and Tetlit Gwich'in ancestry. "And that's my agenda right now with modern Indigenous cuisine."

Francis shared his views in between *preparing the dishes of a four-course meal during the gala dinner of the Procurement Employment Partnerships (PEP) Conference and Tradeshow, held on Jan. 21 in Sudbury.

Now in its third year, the conference's objective is to seek out ways to build industry-wide supply chain management, address the shortage of skilled labour, and build relationships between industry and Indigenous communities.

Dishes on Francis' menu featured seemingly disparate ingredients bun died into distinctive pairings: pickerel cheeks on a cedar skewer with cedar tea barbecue sauce. Three sisters soup With whitefish and cranberry bruschetta. Bison and creme brulee bone marrow with pureed parsnip, kale, chocolate, and blueberries.

It was all delicious and inspired a number of photographers in the room to snap a few shots of their meal, which, for many, was unlike anything else they'd eaten.

Francis' name will be familiar to fans of Top Chef Canada.

In 2014, he was the only Indigenous chef to appear on the fourth season of the TV reality cooking show, finishing the competition in third place.

A graduate of the prestigious Stratford Chefs School in Stratford, Ont., Francis has worked at Peller Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Toronto's revered Splendido restaurant, which, before it closed in 2015, regularly topped the city's best-restaurant lists.

These days, with an established hospitality business, Aboriginal...

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