Before I begin this review, full disclosure. In the mid-1990s, I was student of David Wolfman’s at George Brown College. He was assigned to teach a course on food theory; a very important course for which a passing grade was required for any student sitting for their chef’s journeyman papers, which was still the standard at that time for aspiring chefs intending to work in the hotel trade. Chef Wolfman spent the three intense weeks of this course teaching us about Indigenous cuisine. To this day, I can still rattle off the procedure for wind-drying salmon. Unfortunately, Chef was supposed to be teaching standard (French, Escoffier-inspired) food theory; stuff like Mother sauces, and things about bain maries. Every single student in the class failed the final exam, and many were rather upset, as it screwed up their job prospects. But we all walked away with valuable knowledge about the cuisines of the first peoples of Canada, something that still doesn’t get taught enough in any context, chef’s school or otherwise.
So I have first hand knowledge of Wolfman’s long-standing dedication to Canadian Indigenous cuisine, and I’m happy to see this book full of recipes inspired by First Nations foodways. Because what Wolfman does exceptionally well is to translate those dishes for the modern palate. Dishes like Vanilla Salted Maple Duck Breast, Slow Cooked Ginger Caribou Shank, and Mango and Raisin Curried Elk Stew speak to a global fusion that blends Indigenous ingredients with French and Asian techniques and flavours. Straight up First Nations recipes for basic dishes like Bannock and Shawnee Cake are also included.
There’s plenty of instruction throughout — you, too, will learn how to wind-dry salmon, and to fillet white fish — with primers on game, fowl, and fish. Recipes are straight-forward with metric and Imperial measurements, clear fonts, and high-lighted ingredients. Recipe introductions offer some of Wolfman’s wit and humour and are worth reading even if you don’t plan to cook that recipe, just for the information and stories about his culture that he shares.
Here in Canada, First Nations cuisine is finally getting the recognition it deserves, and Wolfman is most definitely responsible for that. This collection is a must-have for every Canadian kitchen, and non-Canucks would probably enjoy it as well, just because it’s full of really interesting ingredients and unfamiliar flavours. Just maybe don’t read when you’re supposed to be studying Escoffier.
Note: I use the terms Indigenous people(s) and First Nations interchangeably here. In Canada, the more respectful term is “First Nations” to acknowledge that the native populations were here, well, first, but both terms apply to the vast range of groups who live south of the Arctic, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.