Château Frontenac chef learns 'real cuisine' from Cree elders

·3 min read

Eeyou Istchee Tourism and Tourisme Baie-James have teamed up with a top chef at the Château Frontenac hotel in Quebec City to publish a book of recipes created with the help of Cree elders.

The recipes are part of Northern Flavours - ᒌᐧᐁᑎᓅᑖᐦᒡ ᓂᓯᐧᑖᐤ, a cookbook released this Fall as part of efforts to promote the region.

"This project is part of our desire to develop this aspect of the regional tourism industry and to offer unique, quality culinary experiences to visitors," said Robin McGinley, executive director of Eeyou Istchee Tourism and the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association, in a press release.

Chef Stéphane Modat is the restaurants chef at Quebec City's Fairmont le Château Frontenac. He travelled to the Cree community of Chisasibi in the summer of 2019 to learn from Cree elders about Eeyou meechum, or Cree traditional cooking.

I learned that wasting things is not an option. - Stéphane Modat, Chateau Frontenac hotel

"I learned so much. I learned about cooking with the elders in a natural way and sharing plates and sharing with the people," said Modat, who is originally from France.

"It's important to know where we come from to know where we are going. I learned that wasting things is not an option."

One of Modat's guides on his visit to Chisasibi was Edward Bearskin, who is the tourism coordinator for Chisasibi. He said he was also able to learn from Modat.

"I was very surprised by the natural herbs and plants that Stéphane used," said Bearskin, in Cree. "I am going to try and cook and season ... my fish that way too."

During his visit to Chisasibi, Modat spent time fishing, gathering edible plants and cooking with the elders.

Jamie Pashagumskum/CBC
Jamie Pashagumskum/CBC

For Robin McGinley, the book is an invitation to discover the history and culture of the region through its cooking.

"The region has infinite culinary treasures and opportunities," said McGinley from Eeyou Istchee Tourism, in a press release.

One of the recipes Modat learned while in Chisasibi is how to make bannock with fish eggs cooked on sticks over an open fire.

The region has infinite culinary treasures and opportunities. - Robin McGinley, executive director of EeyouIstchee Tourism and COTA

"It's not fake cuisine. It's real cuisine with people and techniques," said Modat, adding he also learned Cree techniques to clean the fish and make a broth.

He also tried what's called pemmican, which is often made from dried meat or fish that is pounded into a fine powder and mixed with grease from the goose or bear, as an example.

"It's a taste we're not used to ... but it is so traditional and cultural. It's real life," said Modat.

Eeyou Istchee Tourism/ Stéphane Modat
Eeyou Istchee Tourism/ Stéphane Modat

Modat said he is using some of the techniques he learned in Cree territory at the Chateau Frontenac, such as smoking the fish and making walleye chips and bannock.

He hopes that people will use the Northern Flavours cookbook as a way to connect with the territory.

"I need for people to open themselves up to what is happening in the regions," said Modat.

He said he hopes to be able to experience Cree cuisine in all the seasons.

The cookbook is available on the Eeyou Istchee Baie-James Tourism website.