Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A new initiative will not only provide much-needed business for some Indigenous chefs across the country, it will also enable Indigenous families in need to receive some food this holiday season.
A fundraising campaign titled Indigenous Feast Boxes was launched last week by the Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations (ICAN).
The campaign, which runs until Dec. 18 through GoFundMe, aims to raise $60,000.
ICAN has enlisted the services of nine Indigenous chefs or restaurants across Canada. The plan is to have chefs provide both the food and recipes for each feast box, valued at $50 per box.
ICAN is spending $25,000 of its own money to pay for the chefs’ and workers’ time, as well as some distribution expenses.
Each box is expected to serve four to six people. The food will either be partially or fully prepared, and will come with cooking instructions.
Various organizations would then distribute the boxes of food to Indigenous families in need.
“This initiative is something we need right now,” said Joseph Shawana, the chair of ICAN’s board of directors. “This is the time we need to come together and help each other out. This experience will make us stronger.”
If the campaign reaches its targeted goal, a total of 1,200 boxed meals will be distributed across the country.
Shawana has operated Kukum Kitchen, a popular Indigenous fine dining restaurant in Toronto, since 2016. He realizes there is a huge need for food among Indigenous people across the country, even more so now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is a huge food insecurity on reserve and off reserve,” said Shawana, a member of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island. “By us doing this little initiative, we add a few more drops to the bucket.”
Because of the pandemic, Kukum Kitchen has been closed since this past March. Shawana is hoping to reopen the restaurant this coming spring.
He will be taking part in the Indigenous Feast Boxes campaign through his catering service called ddcx Indigenous Kitchen and Catering.
Some representatives from Toronto’s Centennial College will be assisting him. Besides teaching at the college, Shawana is also Centennial’s Indigenous culinary advisor.
As of Wednesday afternoon, a bit more than $8,800 had been raised through the GoFundMe campaign, which can be viewed here.
How much money is raised will determine how many boxes each of the participating chefs will be preparing.
“I’m shooting for the stars,” Shawana said. “I’m hoping to help 200 families here in Toronto.”
Half of the feast boxes that will be prepared by Shawana will be distributed through Native Child and Family Services of Toronto. The other half will be distributed by the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre.
Shawana is hoping ICAN members will continue to provide boxed meals for those in need even after this year’s holiday season.
“I foresee it happening quarterly or every four months,” he said. “I wish we could do it every single week but the funding is not there. You need money to operate this kind of operation.”
Shawana said he has had some preliminary discussions with various organizations that he is hoping will provide some funds to continue a food program into next year.
“I’m trying to get my foot in the door in a few places,” he said. “I can’t say too much on it right now.”
Christa Bruneau-Guenther, a member of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, is another chef participating in the campaign.
This month marks the fifth-year anniversary that Bruneau-Guenther has been operating Feast Café Bistro in Winnipeg.
Serving modern dishes rooted in Indigenous history, Bruneau-Guenther’s business had become a popular one in Winnipeg’s west end.
But the pandemic has taken a toll on the business, which originally shut down in March. Since then the business has not been able to provide a good chunk of its catering services or its dine-in options.
Providing the Indigenous Feast Boxes will enable Bruneau-Guenther to do a bit of business.
“It’s definitely a win-win all around,” she said. “It allows us to keep working. It allows us to keep our employees working and it will also help out people in our community.”
Bruneau-Guenther is pleased to know that as many as 1,200 families could be receiving feast boxes through this campaign.
“That’s if we meet our target,” she said. “And if we don’t, we work with what we have.”
A pair of Vancouver restaurants are also among those taking part in the campaign. They are Mr. Bannock Indigenous Cuisine, led by chef Paul Natrall, and a team from Salmon ‘n Bannock Restaurant, including owner Inez Cook.
Also participating are two businesses from Quebec, Wawatay Catering, featuring chef Cezin Nottaway, and Wigwam Catering led by chef Maxime Lizotte.
Chef Scott Iserhoff, who operates Pei Pei Chei Ow Catering in Edmonton, Iqaluit chef Sheila Flaherty who owns sijjakkut, and the Saskatoon-area Wanuskewin Heritage Park culinary team under the guidance of chef Jenni Lessard are also taking part.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.