'She had me at lynx chow mein': Brought together by wild food and Facebook, N.W.T. cooks pen recipe book

Melissa Sangris, left, and Barb Mercredi, right, collaborated on a cookbook full of northern recipes. (CBC - image credit)
Melissa Sangris, left, and Barb Mercredi, right, collaborated on a cookbook full of northern recipes. (CBC - image credit)

If you sit down with Barb and Richard Mercredi for dinner in Fort Smith, N.W.T., you might find yourself tucking into any sort of wild food.

The duo has been baking, frying and stewing food they've harvested from the land for ages. That chicken chow mein? It's actually lynx — but you wouldn't know it, says Richard, given the mild taste of the animal.

The Mercredis share their creations lavishly, often posting them to the CBC's Arctic Kitchen Facebook group. It was there that that lynx dish (among many others) caught the eye of Melissa Sangris, another wild-food connoisseur, and gave her the push she needed.

Sangris, who has posted before about bannock and klik sandwiches, whitefish and potato patties and moose kebabs (to name a few), has written a cookbook before. Now, she wanted to do it again with Barb.

"Although we hadn't even met, she had me at lynx chow mein," said Sangris, who is from Yellowknife.

"I had wanted the support and motivation to keep moving forward with the cookbook, because life gets busy and I would tend to procrastinate and maybe have it published in five years — if it wasn't for Barb."

That support and motivation went both ways. For Barb, the experience was a brand new one.

"I went into it totally blind, almost," Barb said. "It was great having Melissa, because Melissa knew the process and guided us through everything."

The cookbook, Welcome To Our Northern Kitchen, is now in print. In it, you can find the aforementioned lynx chow mein alongside dozens of other recipes: wild grouse penne, buffalo stew, pike fish cakes and more.

Barb and Richard Mercredi/The Arctic Kitchen
Barb and Richard Mercredi/The Arctic Kitchen

And then, of course, there's Barb's bannock recipe.

"Even before the cookbook was being written, I would always go to the [Arctic Kitchen] and look up the recipe," Sangris said. "I've been cooking her bannock for, what, three years now?"

The power of social media

For Sangris and the Mercredis, the Arctic Kitchen group became a place they visited regularly as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on.

Sangris said that became even more important as restrictions stopped people from gathering.

"Being from Yellowknife and from the Northwest Territories, the way we're brought up is to share with others," she said. "So when you're able to share your recipes with others, it just feels good and it feels right ... It brings a sense of community."

Melissa Sangris/The Arctic Kitchen
Melissa Sangris/The Arctic Kitchen

Wild food has always been a part of Richard's life, as he was raised on the land and has eaten it since he was a child. Through hunting, trapping and fishing, he provides most of the meat he and Barb cook up.

Posting it online is a way to share their love of wild food, said Richard, and learn new things themselves — like how to cook Chinese food (with a twist).

"We took a lot of pride in that," he said.

The feedback they've received from the group about their recipe book has been overwhelmingly positive, Barb added — they've received messages from all over Canada.

"It's really encouraging, from everybody, to do this," she noted.

For Sangris, that outpouring of feedback has helped settle the fears she had when they were working on the book.

"I'm not a chef by any means, I just love to cook," she said. "The messages that I get ... it kind of builds your confidence and makes you happy you actually went through the process."