Beyond Bannock: How Feast in Winnipeg is Reconnecting Food with Culture
Sometimes you get sobering answers to what seem like simple questions.
I’d often been puzzled by the lack of First Nations restaurants in Canada. I’d asked before why there were so few—you can pretty much count them on two hands, from Salmon ‘n’ Bannock in Vancouver to La Traite in Wendake—and never been given a satisfactory reply. Talking to Christa Bruneau-Guenther, co-owner of Feast Café Bistro in Winnipeg all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
“Really, I think it’s because throughout the residential school era, our culture was stripped from us. Food, language, the arts, everything, I think if you do that for over a hundred years it gets lost and snowballs from there. I hate bringing up the negativity but it’s the reality.”
Think about it: food connects us so strongly to our culture, when you drill down into traditional and regional dishes they tell a story of land and communities, of a place and its people. You take that away from people and their spirit as well as their body will be starved. Feast is part of an essential First Nations movement that’s bringing that connection back to its people. As one of the Peguis First Nation, the largest First Nations community in Manitoba, Christa’s doing it with a menu of dishes that draw on traditional Indigenous ingredients in a modern presentation.
“I guess this movement started perhaps a decade ago by focussing on language and bringing that back into Indigenous culture. Then music and the arts and I think that food is the last piece in the puzzle. I really wanted to have modern dishes that people are familiar with, and then integrate as many indigenous ingredients into that as I could: so our bannock butternut squash pizza has four indigenous ingredients: squash, pine nuts, a maple syrup-chipotle drizzle, and bannock – but it’s in a pizza form that everyone is familiar with.”
After opening in winter 2015, Feast has rapidly become part of the fabric of the West End neighbourhood, providing a place for locals to reconnect and enjoy traditional foods once more. “It’s part of Indigenous culture not to waste anything,” Christa tells me, “For instance, we take all the vegetable trimmings, the carrot tops and peels from the onions and freeze them until we’ve enough to make vegetable stock. We crack and boil all the bones to get the marrow and make stock from that too. and we get the marrow from that. As an Indigenous business it’s important for us to recycle everything too.”
Christa told me a story about an elder who’d visited and been bought to tears by tasting food that he’d not eaten since he was a child. It’s clear that what Feast is doing goes far beyond a simple local restaurant to becoming an important part of the reconciliation process. Using ingredients from Manitoba, such as bison, pickerel, wild rice and Saskatoon berries and using traditional cooking techniques, such as multi-day stewing, Christa and her team whip up a menu of tasty treats from breakfast through till dinner. And yes, the food is incredibly delicious: from the famous squash bannock pizza to crisp ‘Indian Tacos’ made with fluffy warm bannock, and plate-lickingly great two-day marinade maple chicken. It’s exciting to be able to taste Indigenous foods and I’m hopeful that this small trickle of First Nations restaurants eventually becomes a tidal wave; reconnecting First Nations peoples with their traditional foods once more, and teaching Canadians compassion and understanding with each bite.