In Canada, Chasing and Stabilizing an Ethnic Way of Life

Lifestyle

In September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the nation’s past “humiliation, neglect and abuse” of indigenous people, and vowed at the United Nations to improve the lives of the country’s 1.4 million indigenous citizens. The effort, however belated, has accompanied a renewed appreciation of indigenous culture, including a rich food tradition that stretches back centuries.

That tradition is resurfacing all over. Starting this summer, Rich Francis, an indigenous chef who finished in third place on “Top Chef Canada” in 2014, will host “Red Chef Revival,” a new series on YouTube that will explore, among other subjects, the roots of indigenous cooking.

There are indigenous food trucks in British Columbia, cooking courses in Ottawa and new restaurants and cafes in Toronto, including Ku-kum Kitchen and NishDish, which serves plates like dandelion-cranberry salad. Ms. Nottaway served smoked char chowder to a crowd of thousands on Parliament Hill in Ottawa during Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations last year.

“This is the food I grew up on,” Ms. Nottaway said. “They took away our land, our culture, our language, and I am fighting to bring it back with my food.”CreditRenaud Philippe for The New York Times

“Because of the political reconciliation, there is a culinary reconciliation and renaissance,” the Quebec chef Jean Paul Grappe said.

At 75, this eminence grise of Canadian cooking, an early champion of indigenous cuisine, is traveling around the province teaching young chefs reared in the age of Twitter how to use the techniques of their ancestors — such as covering a partridge in clay and simmering it for eight hours on top of hot stones in the ground.

Ms. Nottaway, who also goes by her French-Canadian name, Marie-Cecile, is a member of the Algonquin nation, one of the 11 indigenous groups in Quebec whose people lived here long before European settlers arrived in the 17th century.

After decades in which these communities have grappled with discrimination, poverty, gambling, suicide and alcoholism, Ms. Nottaway sees her embrace of traditional cooking techniques as nothing less than “decolonizing myself.”

“This is the food I grew up on,” she said. “They took away our land, our culture, our language, and I am fighting to bring it back with my food.”

The plucky, charismatic chef, who speaks three languages (English, French and Algonquin), juggles her catering business with raising her two children, and is as at home with a shotgun as with a frying pan. Her interest in traditional cooking took root when she was a teenager, eschewing trips to McDonald’s in favor of learning Algonquin recipes, passed on orally from her grandmothers.

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