Indigenous culinary food kit contains chef stories, ingredients, recipes

Raised in Northern Saskatchewan by a little lake, berry picking was one of Chef Jenni Lessard’s favourite activities. With no TV and long before the internet, Lessard spent her time cooking and baking with the bounty of the forest. This experience grounded Lessard in her Métis roots and also inspired a dream of one day opening her own “fancy” restaurant.

She did just that in 2005, opening New Ground Cafe’ in the small farming town of Birch Hills, Saskatchewan as chef, owner, hostess and server. It was one part Fair Trade coffee shop with Red River Cinnamon Buns, one part bustling lunch stop with hearty soups and bannock, and one part fine dining with fixed price evening meals, live music and rotating art displays.

These days Lessard lives on Treaty Four Territory in the Qu’Appelle Valley near Regina where she owns and operates Inspired By Nature Culinary Consulting. Catering, speaking and teaching all over the province created a following of clients eager for Lessard’s unique blend of Métis cooking and storytelling.

She’s also Secretary at the Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations, an organization dedicated to sharing Indigenous culinary and cultural experiences in regions all over the country. ICAN has partnered with Shop First Nations to create an Indigenous Culinary Food Fit that’s on full display at this week’s National Indigenous Tourism Conference in Calgary.

On Saturday March 26, 2022 at 5pm EST Lessard will be presenting a virtual culinary experience where participants will learn more about the foods included in this food kit as well as how to incorporate these foods into everyday recipes.

More information on the event can be found on the Indigenous Tourism website.

Decolonizing Indigenous cuisine

Lessard’s contribution to the food kit includes a delicious cream of mushroom and bison dry meat pasta sauce. The kit also contains bannock mix from Chef Paul Nutrall aka Mr. Bannock from the Squamish Nation, as well as several other authentic Indigenous goods such as wild rice, mushroom mix, salt, syrup, coffee, and labrador tea.

“We are so excited to share the Indigenous Cuisine Food Kit with over 300 delegates attending the National Indigenous Tourism Conference,” says Rob Schulz, founder and CEO of Shop First Nations. “Creating the Indigenous food kit with ICAN demonstrates the diversity and culinary brilliance that exists in Indigenous cuisine. In addition, it combines the importance of Indigenous food knowledge and traditional gathering with the excitement of modern culinary tastes!”

“In the future we hope to create more food kits like this for the broader public through our online store to further promote the interconnection between food and Indigenous culture to consumers,” Schulz adds.

Mr. Bannock and Rob Schulz of Shop First Nations at NITC 2022.

This decolonizing Indigenous cuisine feature on CBC Radio last year dove deep into the traumatic history of food being weaponized against Indigenous children in residential schools. Many survivors have shared stories in the media of forced starvation and meal experimentation.

Survivors recall that good food was for the staff. Rotten and low-quality food was for the children. Out on the territories, Indigenous people were being displaced from their traditional hunting grounds and forced onto reservations as European settlers built towns all around them.

This colonial history is never too far away in the minds of contemporary Indigenous chefs across Turtle Island who are using food as their method of cultural reconnection and the larger movement of Indigenous resurgence.

“It’s the resiliency of Indigenous peoples who held onto traditional food gathering practices that makes contemporary Indigenous cuisine so special,” says Schulz.

The Indigenous Culinary Food Kit is the third gift box produced by Shop First Nations in partnership with Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations and Indigenous vendors from across Turtle Island. If you’re an Indigenous business interested in including one of your products in a future gift box please contact us.

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