Michelin's Lost Star

Chefs plate up multiple sashimi and sushi dishes at Nupo, one of Calgary's newest Japanese-style restaurants. Video by Sofia Gruchalla-Wesierski.
 
 
Why are there no Michelin Star Restaurants in Canada?
By Sofia Gruchalla-Wesierski, Casey Richardson and Mollie Smith

Articles

Where are the Canadian Michelin Star Restaurants?
What does it take to work in a Michelin Star Kitchen?
What is Canadian Cuisine?
A timelapse of service at The Wednesday Room, where Chef Derek Wilkins leads the team through the dinner rush. Video by Sofia Gruchalla-Wesierski.

Where are the Canadian Michelin Stars?

By Casey Richardson

Introduction to the Michelin Guide and the stars

 

Many Canadians are surprised by the fact that we don’t have any restaurants awarded Michelin stars, or they are unaware of the prestigious international guidebook and what the list can do.

 

Restaurants who have received a Michelin star —or two or three —  have seen their sales skyrocket and reservations booked months in advance. The culinary recognition promotes tourism and increases the nation’s standing on a global stage — something that Canada doesn't see a lot of.

 

The guidebook came from humble beginnings, created in the early 1900s by the Michelin Tire company in France to help drivers on road trips. The small informational red book was packed full of tips for nearby restaurants, hotels and maps of the areas. 

 

Not far after, the book began to cost a small price to purchase and restaurants started being rated by undercover diners employed by the company. 

On the left is the world-renowned coveted one to three-star rating system. It breaks down how each star is different from the others. Infographic by Mollie Smith. 

 

In 1926, according to the Michelin Guide’s official website, the book began awarding stars to restaurants the judges were impressed by. In the years following, the one, two and three-star ranking system would be introduced. 

Michelin added another category in 1997, a "Bib Gourmand” award, which is described as "not quite a star," but a substantial recognition for "friendly establishments that serve good food at moderate prices."

Over the following years, Michelin would expand across Europe, growing in popularity and prestige. Soon, chefs were devoting themselves to landing a spot on the coveted list and would be devastated if a star was taken away — diminishing their recognition as an exceptional restaurant. 

 

The guide currently rates over 40,000 establishments in over 24 territories across three continents, and more than 30 million Michelin Guides have been sold worldwide since, according to the guide's website.  The guide has also added digital copies of the guide on their website, and added mobile apps for easy recommendations while travelling. 

 

But, Canada has remained off of the list and hasn’t been visited by any inspectors.

Michael Allemeier is a current culinary instructor at SAIT, in which he says he’s leading the next generation of cooks to understand Michelin as a standard. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Fokken.

 

Michael Allemeier, an instructor of Culinary Arts at SAIT Polytechnic, teaches his students about Michelin as a high-level standard. As the former winery chef at Mission Hill Family Estate, and one of only five certified master chefs in Canada, he adds that the guide was something that was “initially bound for Europe and then it kind of made its way to Asia.”

 

“A couple of years ago, I remember very clearly when it did come to the U.S., and how it really was received as a big deal,” Allemeier said. “It was also received with quite a bit of controversy as well as the guide sometimes can have.”

 

The Michelin Guide controversies are sparked over its favouritism with French cuisine restaurants, as Allemeier mentions, noting that places which feature traditional French menu and ingredients are more likely to receive recognition. 

 

If chefs are wanting to land three stars, restaurants that boast hundreds of dollars-per-person menus are the usual recipients.

Michelin restaurants around the world

 

Most Michelin restaurants are putting in the extra money, time, and dedication in order to achieve that high quality. 

 

“For three stars it comes down to the [details], the depth of your wine cellar,” Allemeier said.  “You've got to check a lot of boxes with regards to what you have in your wine service program and the quality of your linen and the appearance of your room and your art [work].”

 

“It comes down to the thread counts on your tablecloth and your linen. It comes down to the calibre of your plateware and your stemware.”

Allemeier explained that there’s a striking difference in what these Michelin star kitchens carry.

 

“I would say that the level of equipment, the level of ingredients and the skill level is world-class.” 

 

“The reality is if you've got three Michelin stars... In order to have that you've got to have incredible talents in the kitchen and the floor, in front of the house because it has to be this perfect team,” said Allemeier.

Above is a map of where all of the Michelin Star awarded restaurants are around the world. The city of Tokyo, Japan has the most awarded Michelin Star restaurants in the world with 225. Infographic by Mollie Smith.

 

Many Canadian chefs take the opportunity to leave the country and experience the proficiency of Michelin. Chloe Lomas is one of them, who took the opportunity to travel, eat and work in European Michelin star restaurants for just under a year. The level of dedication she saw was unmatched. 

 

“It's just a different way of kitchen living. There was still a whole lot of respect and a whole lot of compassion for the employees,” said Lomas. “They were really tough, but really kind and really fair.”

 

While in Denmark, Lomas spent 10 days interning at Noma — Denmark’s only three-star Michelin restaurant, alongside around 30 other interns.

 

“You're doing things like picking individual thyme leaves and pulling out pickled rose petals out of a vacuum-sealed bag and arranging them to into a perfect circle,” Lomas said. “Then trimming the edges and doing things like that. So it's really, really anal work.”

Another Canadian chef found his time working at Michelin Star kitchens to outmatch the work he sees here. Darren MacLean currently runs Shokunin, Nupo and Eight as head chef and has found the light on the culinary scene by also appearing as a finalist on the Netflix show, The Final Table.  

 

“A Michelin calibre kitchen is completely different. It's cleaner. It's just as busy. But there's a lot more focus and poise, they're there for a purpose,” said MacLean. “Everybody knows they have to maintain those stars, so nothing is overlooked.”

 

MacLean adds that the consistency across Michelin star restaurants in terms of how they operate is pretty incredible.

Darren MacLean stands in Nupo, one of his three Calgary restaurants. Eight is tucked inside of Nupo as a private course dining experience and Shokunin is in the mission area downtown. Photo by Casey Richardson.

 

But this doesn’t come without overwhelming pressure. Lomas remarks of multiple stories where chefs who have been so afraid of losing their Michelin status that they've closed the restaurant or that they've lost a healthy sense of perspective because they're so stressed out about maintaining that gold star. 

 

Canadian Chef Derek Wilkins has seen the intensity that comes from Michelin kitchens, and the “experience starts from the front door.” 

 

“What I've seen in documentaries and things about cooking, [and] reading about it, chefs in Europe and places where there are Michelin stars, that's kind of their goal. I want my Michelin star. They're heartbroken if they lose one, if they don't gain one, that's kind of their long-term goal.”

 

Overall, he remarks that any good chef would strive to have the best team in some way.

 

“As part of their daily grind is making sure everything's the best it can be and bringing in the best ingredients, having the best people work for you,” said Wilkins.

 

While we reached out to the Michelin Guidebook for comment, they didn’t reply to us with a statement or interest in being interviewed. The organization is notorious for being hard to reach and not allowing any of its undercover diners and judges to be interviewed. 

 

“They're pretty secretive about why they do what they do. And there doesn't really seem to be any rhyme or reason to how they hand them out or how, or what places they like to get them to,” said Micah Joffe, the executive chef and part owner at Bar Bricco in Edmonton.

Currently, only five US areas have been visited and had guidebooks created in the United States: Washington, Chicago, California, Los Angeles and New York.

 

This leaves the question of why aren’t Canadian restaurants being visited, and is the Guide willing to come to Canada?

 

“Do we have Michelin calibre restaurants in Canada? I would say yes, absolutely,” said Allemeier.

 

“But we don't, [because] the Michelin Guide doesn't ‘do’ Canada, for lack of a better term. I firmly believe that we have the ingredients without a doubt.”

In order to be considered for a Michelin Star, the inspector has five specific restaurant rating criteria listed on the right. Infographic by Mollie Smith. 

Canadian chefs and restaurants

"We have the talent, we have some incredibly talented chefs in this country that given their chops in an environment that they would be able to hold and maintain stars. I'd like to think that we have world-class cities, [such as] Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver for sure, and Toronto naturally,” said Allemeier.

 

Canada has been able to land on the San Pellegrino top restaurants list — a newer coveted international award — and showcase its talents in culinary competitions. 

 

“What I find interesting is that there's a new kid on the block, and you've got the San Pellegrino list. I think actually, the San Pellegrino list coming out has actually made them [Michelin] better, if that makes sense and I think competition is always healthy,” said Allemeier.

 

Wilkins explains that Canada has worked and taken time for it to be recognized on the international scene. 

 

“We have a small population base. There's not a huge plethora of restaurants or huge plethora of really high name chefs,” said Wilkins. “There are fewer restaurants than there are in the United States or Europe.”

Canadian cuisine is also a challenge to define. Our restaurants range in cultural influences and ingredients.

Micah Joffee is a restaurant owner in Edmonton, working hard to create food that people will appreciate and come back for. Photo courtesy of Dong Kim.

 

“I think that people are eating a lot of Canadian food without realizing that it's something that we would consider as Canadian,” said Joffe.

 

”Everybody gets stuck on poutine, get stuck on French cuisine, which is incredible. But I mean that's the Quebecois part of the country and people would see that there's a lot more diversity from that.”

 

Slowly, Canada’s culinary scene has grown. Early Indigenous cuisine is understood as a lot of simple boiling and drying methods, and incorporating ingredients naturally grown nearby. Once European settlers and immigrants brought in their own recipes and styles of cooking, Canadian cuisine continued to develop. Our country’s food has expanded into a multicultural plethora.

“We're honestly just not on the radar, I guess of Michelin, nor world's 50 best. I think that that's because Canadian food culture is very difficult to define. It's a very young country. That doesn't mean that it's not dynamic,” said MacLean.

 

Why does Canada not have any Michelin stars? All of the Chefs we spoke to knew it didn’t come down to lack of talent or excellence, but rather a lack of market.

 

“It's like comedy for Oscars. There's just no category for us. Michelin at the end of the day, regardless of whether you like or dislike Michelin, or you believe in it or not, Michelin is in the business of selling guidebooks. Essentially, Canada's population is very low,” said MacLean.

 

But in terms of there being Michelin stars here and why there aren’t Michelin stars, it comes down to likely unchangeable factors.

 

“I don't think there is a good reason. I think that's something the world needs to look at. Michelin needs to look at coming to Canada,” said Wilkins. “The biggest challenge we have working against this is our population and the fact that we just simply don't have enough people to support the guide.”

Listen to two Calgary Chefs speak on their thoughts on why Canada hasn't gotten a Michelin Star. Video produced by Sofia Gruchalla-Wesierski and Casey Richardson. Video editing by Sofia Gruchalla-Wesierski.

Canada’s Challenges

Canada is competing against cities that hold our entire country's population in its hub.

 

“You look at Greater Chicago with nine and a half million people. You look at Greater New York with 20 million people. Los Angeles, 18 million people. Just between New York and Los Angeles, they've got more people than Canada in two American cities,” said Allemeier.

 

“How do 330 million people compete against 38 million people? Right? I mean, it's ridiculous. You’ve got Tokyo. Tokyo has the most amount of Michelin stars per capita. And they've got 14 million people, right, nearly half of Canada's population in one city.” 

 

The fact that Canada holds so few people spread over such large geography hinders the selling capabilities.

 

“I think we're too far away. We're too inaccessible and we're not enough of a profit point for them,” said Lomas 

 

“The reality is the Michelin system is a business as well. They survive by selling guides, right? Then it's not a charity operation,” Allemeier points out that they have to be able to cover their costs and be profitable at what they do as well. 

 

“With 38 million people, is that enough people to buy enough guides and have enough influence and now they think, clearly not so, that's why we don't have that yet.” 

 

Perhaps it’s also the fact that European chefs are trained and fully aware of the standard of Michelin from a young age, or that the market for these restaurants is more attainable for European and Asian countries. 

 

According to a study done by the USDA’s Economic Research Service,  the average Canadian spends only 9.6 per cent of their household income on food, and that number only increases slightly when factoring in dining out. North America, in general, stands very low in household spending on food. 

 

“The one thing I have noticed versus other countries that I've travelled to is that here value for money is everything. Everybody is concerned with getting the biggest bang for their buck. They don't really concern themselves with the experience,” said MacLean.

 

“They don't understand that dining out as an experience. They just look at what they get. And they look at the bill.”

 

The lack of funds Canadians are willing to part with can also be tied to the amount of time we spend dining. While most Canadians will spend an hour and three minutes total a day eating, according to data published by economic think tank the OECD France takes two and a half hours to enjoy their meals. 

 

“I find that people in Europe, people understand food more, understand food better and are willing to pay the price that really well-done food costs,” said Wilkins. “That translates into what restaurants are feasible in Canada versus Europe.”

Above is the history of the Michelin Guide. It dates back from 1889 to the present. Infographic by Mollie Smith.

In North America, chain restaurants, fast food and delivery services remain the top choice. Sixty three per cent of Canadians see eating out as a luxury, only 16 per cent see it as an everyday activity, according to a study done by Restaurants Canada

 

“Canada's food scene was not as developed as European food scene, but at the time that things like freezer meals hit, and by the time that things like inexpensive fast food hit and then we're like, ‘Okay, I have to eat. And I can fill that with cheap things and that's fine,’” said Lomas.

 

“I also think that the Canadian diner is less interested in having the operatic show, in putting their thought 100 per cent into the meal that they're having. They're more interested in going out to the social aspects. They like to be fed good food, but they're not going to pay that intensively high price or at least not the same rate that they will in Europe. Food is not as important to us.” 

 

Statistics Canada found in a recent study that 54 per cent of diners eat out for a treat or celebration, while the other 40 per cent do it for convenience.

 

With 1.2 million people directly employed in the restaurant industry, the impact of foreign customers matter to their business. These workers make up seven per cent of Canada’s workforce, as stated by a 2018 statistic from Restaurant Canada, and a rise in tourism can help increase sales during a tough economic period. 

 

For most Canadians, the detailed, hours-long dining experience of Michelin doesn’t interest them. Food is not looked at as the experience, but rather just a part of the day.

 

“I would say that I haven't worked with a chef in Canada who's overly concerned with Michelin yet, they're much more concerned about what their local base around them cares about,” said Joffe.

 

However, this does mean Canada is missing out on the increase in travellers for culinary tourism. Eighty five billion dollars in annual sales are generated by the restaurant industry, according to a 2018 statistic from Restaurant Canada, which adds up to 4 per cent of the country’s GDP. 

 

“Anyone who would use that guide as something to travel by, obviously they wouldn't be coming to Canada,” said Wilkins. “We definitely deserve our shot like global tourism, at people coming to dine here and experience what they can experience in other Michelin star restaurants around the world.”

 

“I think it does really hinder global tourism,” Joffe added. “I think that there is a whole group of people who look at that list every year and pick new destinations to travel to. I think being kept off of lists like that definitely hinders every Canadian restaurant.”

Derek Wilkins, head chef of The Wednesday Room in Calgary, has worked in kitchens for over ten years. His commitment to sustainability and experience in fine dining is what allows him to continuously stand out in Calgary's date night and culinary scene. Photo by Sofia Gruchalla-Wesierski.
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The future for Michelin

Whether Canada will see the Michelin Guidebook come to visit is unknown, but still unlikely. Guidebook editors may be too busy adapting to evolving styles of restaurants. As new culinary lists and awards come out, Michelin’s traditional ways get challenged. 

 

“The thing about Michelin is that it can be very exclusive. It can be extremely expensive. It can be like you have to have a certain dress code to be able to go. You have to be able to make your reservations months and months in advance. You have to be able to drop like a grand on a meal. You have to be able to spend four hours there eating like it has to be such an operatic thing,” said Lomas.

 

That is the usual expectation when dining at a three-star Michelin restaurant, but as Michelin has been expanding and much more affordable places are being awarded a single star. 

 

Small street carts and food stalls have been recent recipients, for example, a two dollar chicken dish in Singapore found themselves landing a coveted star. The guide’s new addition has been a refreshing take on quality food, changing the usual features.

 

Michelin’s future still looks bright as young chefs are aiming for excellence and a restaurant’s success can be skyrocketed by gaining the guidebook’s recognition. 

 

“Why I think Michelin still holds relevancy is that it gives you something to try to achieve. It's like, why would you build a Ferrari, is a Ferrari relevant? Maybe not to some people because of the expensive nature of a Ferrari, [or] the fact that you can't drive it in the winter, but all of the innovations that have occurred, and the everyday basic car we drive is as a result of people pushing the envelope as Ferrari or Lamborghini or Formula One,” said Maclean.

 

“When we stopped shooting for the stars —  metaphor and pun totally intended — I think we actually lose a bit of that and we allow ourselves to just be satisfied with what's around us, and Michelin inspires you.” 

The Wednesday Room plates up one of their dishes for YYC food and drink experience, a set three-course menu to enjoy. Video by Sofia Gruchalla-Wesierski

What it takes to work in a Michelin Star kitchen

 

One young chef’s experience while taking on European Kitchens

By Casey Richardson

Michelin Stars — the ominous, impossible-to-achieve, high rating star system has driven chefs across the world to work insane hours and constantly push the edge of creativity with food. 

 

Chloe Lomas is an Albertan chef and baker who wanted to experience that challenge. She got her start attending NAIT for culinary school and working for a few years in restaurants like the Duchess Bakeshop in Edmonton. But she decided to challenge herself and travel to Europe.

 

When Lomas was first introduced to Michelin star through cookbooks, she was stunned. 

 

“When I first saw them, I was like, clearly no one in Canada has ever heard about food really? Because I've never seen anything like this,” said Lomas.

 

“Oh my goodness, isn't this amazing? Look at that foam, look at that gel. l was just so amazed by the presentation and the thought that food is something that can be so high level.”

 

Lomas now saw food as more of an art form, and her goal became to work within these kitchens. Lomas decided to delve into an eating tour with a long list of Michelin-star restaurants to start, travelling across Europe and then land staging positions at a few places.

 

Staging is where chefs take on a (usually unpaid) internship position within a kitchen to gain experience, skills and opportunities. 

 

This is where Lomas was fully immersed in how much work goes into making the restaurants a success.

 

“When I moved to Denmark, I wanted to go because I wanted to get my ass kicked,” said Lomas. “I wanted to know what it was like to work that hard and I didn't think that I was going to find the same thing in Canada.”

Chloe Lomas (far right) stands with her team after a long shift on Jan. 1, 2016, in Noma, a Michelin star restaurant in Denmark. Photo courtesy of Chloe Lomas.

 

Lomas took the next year to work in restaurants recognized by the Michelin Star or ran by chefs who had earned stars previously, places that stood out to her.

 

“I went and it was the hardest environment I've ever worked in,” said Lomas. “This chef, Matthew Orlando, is one of the most amazing people I've ever met, but he's also extremely anal so the kitchen gets like top to bottom scrubbed multiple times a day.”

 

“You could eat off that floor and every mat has to be lined back up with the same tiles and nobody's allowed to wear light-coloured socks and a whole bunch of crap like that.”

 

The hours expected of the interns and chefs ranged from an 80 to 120-hour work weeks, with some work days lasting 22 hours. Some of the longest days for Lomas were at Amass, a restaurant in Denmark that pushed her skills. 

 

“For a standard week at Amass, they're open Tuesday to Saturday. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday is just dinner service, so you get in between 11 a.m and 12 p.m. and you leave at [around] one in the morning depending on how busy the season is.

 

“Then on Fridays [and] Saturdays, you do lunch as well. So you're in at the restaurant at nine in the morning and you leave closer to two on those weekend nights. And it was rough.”

 

Lomas lived a twenty-minute bike ride away from the restaurant at this time. She would bike home at 2 a.m., get something to eat and tuck into bed at around 3 a.m., all to get up and do it all again at 7:30 a.m.

 

“I was like, I can't do this. I'm not good enough for this restaurant. It's too hard. The hours are too insane.”

 

But Lomas stuck it out and landed herself a paid position at Amass for a while by taking over the pastry section for a chef on leave.

 

“It was just a lot of work done by a small, very, very focused, very caring team. And I made it out of there and I was like, ‘yep, can't do that again.’” 

European kitchen standards

The standards of European kitchens and constant pushing had Lomas doubt herself. She went on to work at other Michelin Starred restaurants like Noma and Studio in Denmark, finding the intricacies and details stand out.

 

This is where chefs like Lomas will point out a big difference between Canadian and European kitchens, and how hard you can push your employees. 

 

“I think that part of it is the dedication, but mostly I think that we — and this is a tough scenario—  because I think that in Canadian kitchens, we can't be as rough to our workers. People won't put up with that.”

 

Lomas added that she thinks that “being able to put so much of the focus on the food really does mean that to an extent in some areas, workers need to know that it's not about them.”

 

The experience she found in the kitchen run by European chefs showcased the attitude in a kitchen there differs from them here. 

 

“We're not going to go for 12 hours without a break unless we really, really care. And there are people who really, really care, but it's hard for them to all conglomerate together and make it work.”

“Michelin is very cool, but it's not the be-all-end-all,” Lomas added, noting that there’s great creativity going on in Canada.

 

After her time in Europe, Lomas moved to Calgary and returned to bakeries and restaurants, eventually starting her own baking company. While she may not be in a European kitchen, the dedication stuck with her to work three different jobs today.

A busy night of service at The Wednesday Room, where the kitchen is putting out multiple share dishes and small plates. Video by Sofia Gruchalla-Wesierski

What is Canadian Cuisine?

By Casey Richardson

A country’s culture can be defined in many aspects, one of the biggest being its own cuisine and style of cooking. But with Canada, the cuisine — much like the country — is young. Its heritage, the traditional cuisine of the First Peoples of Canada, slowly disappeared as settlers moved in. 

 

When the Michelin Guide began, it was a standing recognition of the quality and craft of French cuisine. The Guide introduced the world to what French Cuisine was. 

 

This leaves open the question of how to define Canadian cuisine. Other nations have centuries worth of cooking practices, local key dishes and traditional farming methods. So how does this country compare?

 

Chefs across the nation are capturing Canadian food with homegrown ingredients, native plants, and a combination of ideas from different cultures, all who have come to form our society.

 

Defining Canadian Cuisine

 

Mostly, there's no single answer to that, as Chef Michael Allemeier, an instructor of Culinary Arts at SAIT Polytechnic Canada would say.

 

“That is a question that we've been tackling for certainly my whole career, the last 30 years. I think the best way to describe Canadian cuisine is it is a celebration of our ingredients, mixed with our diverse immigration culture,” said Allemeier.

 

A multicultural mosaic, which Darren MacLean, as a Calgary based chef that focuses on highlighting Canadian ingredients, said in showcasing a flavour profile of those that live here.

 

“How would I define Canadian cuisine? I wouldn't,” MacLean said. “Canadian cuisine, for me, is something so dynamic and so new, but if I have to define or try to give you a loose definition of what I believe Canadian cuisine to be, I believe it's the utilization of our local products from coast-to-coast.”

Nupo features an Omakase Sushi Experience, the first of its kind in Calgary. The sushi comes out piece by piece on the mirrored dishes. Photo by Casey Richardson.

 

“Canadian cuisine for me is seriously just defined by the people who live here and what they do with our ingredients. And in 200 years it will have a defined cuisine. But right now, it's still morphing.”

 

The many provinces between the coasts change what that means for each place’s dishes, as Chef Chloe Loams explains. “It makes sense to break it down into provinces in the way that the [United] States has.”

 

“Louisiana food is not the same as Texas...They're much more broken down because they're a large country and I think the same would be true of Canada,” Lomas said.

 

“We would have to say that Alberta is really, really beef heavy. We are, but we also have these great root vegetables that we run on a lot because we have so much winter.”

 

Lomas goes on to add that “Vancouver it's going to be a lot more seafood-heavy. You're going to see a lot of Japanese influence. If you're in New Brunswick, you're going to see you’re really [seeing] preservative methods of foods.”

 

But what about the traditional food of the First Peoples? How does their heritage and history shine in our food, when it’s not often what people describe. 

 

Canada’s lost cuisine

 

Dion Simon, the Medicine Trail Coordinator for the Iniskim Centre at Mount Royal University, said that it’s harder for the Indigenous community to cook traditional dishes since so much was lost during the years.

 

“When you go back to the past, in the last 200 years, there was very little access that Indigenous peoples had to their traditional foods and preparation of foods,” Simon said. “During the 1800s, we adapted to what we only had access to in terms of foods and cooking stuff. We were as a people, in that position where we work with what we had in terms of the land and the people that we were close to.”

 

Cooking methods back before then focused on using more protein from the animal, and a little bit of the fat to be used for cooking with. There was not a lot of frying, most meats were boiled or dried. Simon added there may be marinating with the meat, sometimes using animals’ blood. 

 

“You'd work with a lot of herbs and shrubs, onions and you'd be looking at like working with cooking with potatoes, cooking with corn. At times from out east, you'd be working with our wild rice.”

Dion.jpg
Dion Simon stands in his office in Iniskim Centre at Mount Royal University, which offers resources and programs to help Indigenous students thrive. Photo by Casey Richardson.

Much like chefs are doing today, pulling wild natural ingredients into their food and using local produce. 

 

“But if you look at quintessential Indigenous cuisine, it's very hard to find out because of how much was lost. So we really have to go back and actually make an effort in reclaiming that if we want to also have Canadian cuisine have a strong voice internationally. We have to look at our Indigenous heritage,” said MacLean.

 

“Today we've drifted somewhat away from cooking the old ways, but are still learning some of the ways that we prep the food so I think we're coming back to that,” said Simon.

 

“I think there's going to be one day an opportunity for a lot of our entrepreneurs to get into the food business bringing in traditional meats, traditional foods as a cuisine which is the talk today.”

 

Dion adds that the food will make its place in areas in Canada, which has already started happening. 

 

“The Indigenous contribution to Canadian cuisine is super important. What we have to do is we actually have to reclaim that,” MacLean said. “We have to recover that because that was absolutely annihilated. And there are amazing chefs that are doing incredible work. Even here in Alberta with Indigenous cuisine.”

 

Joffee’s restaurant Bar Bricco makes Italian style dishes with Canadian ingredients. Photo courtesy of Dong Kim.
 
 

Bringing back traditional food

 

A highlight in Alberta is on Shane Chartrand, an Indigenous chef in Edmonton who is a part of a new wave of exploring the cuisine, and showcasing his talents while competing on TV shows like Chopped Canada and Iron Chef Canada.

 

“I think that is now starting to come along 100 per cent. We've got chefs like Shane out of Edmonton, who has done huge, huge strides for that. And I think that is now starting to become an influence,” said Michael, adding that because of this, people are noticing Indigenous cuisines more. 

 

“You absolutely cannot have any definition of Canadian cuisine without acknowledging the Indigenous aspects and community,” MacLean said.

 

“And a lot of what we know of Canadian cuisine, even when the first explorers came here was taught to us by the Indigenous [and] we've tried to completely erase that from our dialogue.” 

 

Lomas agrees, adding that people cannot often pinpoint the loss. “I think that that is also sometimes a tough thing for Canadians because if we're looking and we're saying that Canadian food culture is Aboriginal food culture, then what is a Canadian? If I'm not, am I Canadian, if I'm not Aboriginal. And I think that that's something that we don't know how to deal with as a country yet. And we're like trying to figure it out, but we're not there yet.”

 

Throughout the centuries, Canada’s expanding regions with each group of First Nations and Inuit people used their local resources and own food preparation techniques for their cuisines.

 

The traditional Indigenous cuisine of Canada can be described as using the lands to provide, with a mixture of wild meats, foraged vegetables, herbs, and farmed agricultural products. 

 

The fact still stands that our cuisine is developing, and that can hinder our recognition internationally as Canada continues to define itself. 

 

Allemeier added that “Food is culture. Pure and simple. One of the clearest ways to express your culture is through food.”

A busy night at Nupo, located in the East Village in Calgary. Video by Sofia Gruchalla-Wesierski

SOFIA G.-W. 

CASEY R.

MOLLIE S.

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