A talented Cree Chef strives to initiate meaningful conversations about Indigenous cuisine

Shane Cooking

Inclusiveness is the meaning behind Chef Shane Mederic Chartrand’s book, “Tawâw, Progressive Indigenous Cuisine.” Shane M Chartrand is an Indigenous Chef based in Edmonton, Alberta. When asked about writing Tawâw, Shane talks about meeting Jennifer Cockrall-King, his cowriter. Jennifer is an award winning independent food writer, lecturer, and editor based out of British Columbia. “A lot of people think they can write a book, but man it is so hard.” Shane credits Jennifer with the success of the book as without her, the book might not have been finished. “She was incredibly patient,” said Shane.

Growing up as a “sixties-scoop” survivor in Alberta, Shane was not adopted until he was seven years old. His adopted parents, Belinda and Dennis Chartrand are both Indigenous. Belinda is of Irish and Mi’kmaw decent, and his father Dennis is Métis. Shane was raised on a farm in between Calgary and Edmonton, which is what fostered his connection to food. Shane grew up learning to hunt and garden on his family’s acreage. When learning to hunt, Shane’s father instilled in him the importance of not wasting any of the animal. Hunting was not about who was the coolest hunter or taking trophy photos but about getting food for the family’s dinner table.

Shane Preparing Food

It is hard to imagine Chef Shane as a self-described shy kid after talking to him. As an adult he has been featured on Chopped Canada, Iron Chef, and Red Chef Revival, which is not something you think of a shy person doing. A lot of his drive, especially on Chopped Canada, was to show other young Indigenous kids what’s possible. He wanted kids to see mainstream faces that reflected theirs, something he didn’t have growing up.

When he first moved to Edmonton at the age of 21, Chef Shane found that the newest trend in Canadian cuisine was eating locally, which was something he had always been taught to do. He had grown up learning to respect all food and have no waste. A lot of what we see in kitchen trends these days from “farm-to-table” or “nose-to-tail” movements are actually, in essence, quintessential Indigenous teachings.  Chef Shane has spent the last decade of his life trying to get back to those basics, to learn more about the differences in Indigenous cultures, and get people excited about Indigenous cuisine.

When talking to Shane he is very open about what it means to be an Indigenous chef, and what personal struggles he faces. Talking openly about anxiety and mental health is not something you see in the restaurant industry too often. “A lot of people are scared to admit that,” Shane says about suffering from anxiety. This is just another way Chef Shane is paving the way for change in the industry. By being open and honest about mental health struggles, he is leading the way for more acceptance in an industry that has previously been about showing off good food and being able to party with the best.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Chef Shane’s life has shifted quite a bit. Restaurants in Canada have spent the last 16 months opening, closing, only opening for takeout, closing again, etc. Many in the industry have had to stop and re-evaluate how their restaurants work, how they can support employees and how to pivot in a constantly changing world.

With all of the changes, Chef Shane has remained focused on getting back in the kitchen. When I asked him about Indigenous cooking and cuisine, he isn’t sure that Canadians are ready to fully accept what Indigenous cuisine is; however, he wants to continue to push for its celebration.

That is what his book Tawâw is about – showcasing and celebrating Indigenous cuisine, teaching people that Indigenous food is not just what we are taught in school such as bannock or three sisters (beans, corn, and squash).

Indigenous cuisine is not a monolithic culture; it has informed many of the food trends we now view as mainstream. Indigenous food should be uplifted and celebrated. But first, more education and acceptance are needed across Canada. Chefs like Shane M Chartrand are the first of many steps in that direction.

Farmwork to Feed Canada (F2FC) is a national volunteer not-for-profit initiative by Canadian communication professionals, students, and recent graduates in communications. F2FC collaborates with farmers, and agri-businesses amid COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges to Canada’s food supply and food security, to engage Canadians, pro bono, with compelling stories about their food system and build support for Canada’s farmers, food producers, and their essential skilled workers.

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