The Ambassador: Shane Chartrand
Chef, SC Restaurant at River Cree, Edmonton
Chef Shane Chartrand paints the palm of his hand with a brilliant red roasted-pepper reduction, then presses it against a white dinner plate. It’s a dramatic edible backdrop for his signature dishes at the River Cree Resort and Casino—but also an allegory for the way his fingerprints are all over the West’s new wave of modern Indigenous cooking. In his kitchen, local indigenous ingredients are the stars: Chartrand simmers bison bones, puffs wild rice in chicken broth, tosses fried smelts with wild leeks, dries salmon for pemmican, tops mussels with the tender spruce tips he plucks in the spring, and turns foraged highbush cranberries, mint and maple syrup into ruby red mocktails.
Chef Chartrand has a Cree background, but was adopted into a Métis family who taught him to hunt and fish, skills he maintains in his spot at the forefront of the re-emergence of Indigenous cuisine in Canada. He continues to learn the traditions of other nations across the country, travelling to meet with elders and First Nations youth, and sharing his knowledge and experiences at food events and conferences. His first cookbook, Tawâw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine (in Cree, tawâw means “welcome, there is room”), co-authored by prominent Okanagan food writer Jennifer Cockrall-King, is scheduled to come out this October.
Recently, Chartrand took his education efforts to the screen, teaming up with two other First Nations chefs to produce a six-episode Storyhive-funded series called Red Chef Revival, which documents their travels to the Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territories, Haida Gwaii in B.C. and the village of Ohsweken in Ontario to share their stories of pre-colonial indigenous cuisine.
WL: What has been your most memorable meal?
SC: Cooking smelts over an open fire in Yukon.
WL: Your favourite unusual food and drink pairing?
SC:Seal meat I once cooked in B.C., with a simple cabernet sauvignon.
WL: What’s the most underrated ingredient?
SC:The eulachon, or candle fish.
WL: What’s the most overrated ingredient?