SIX NATIONS – Tweets and shout outs are running rampant on Social Media today, cheering on Chef Rich Francis as he heads into the finale of Top Chef Canada as one of the three remaining contestants competing for the title of Canada’s ‘Top Chef’.
“When I first started out to do this I never wanted to reinvent the wheel,” said Francis at his home on Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. “This is just me expressing my perspective on how I see our food. It’s my story; take it or leave it. The people who do appreciate it see where I’m coming from.”
The people Chef Francis is referring to are the thousands of indigenous people on Turtle Island, who, for the last ten weeks have been cheering on the Tuscarora and Gwich’in chef via social media, drooling over the dishes he presents to the judges each week.
Francis is consistent and methodical in his use of indigenous ingredients even down to how he plates each dish, bringing something genius and unique to the tables of Food Network Canada: something he calls “modern aboriginal cuisine”.
“I don’t just randomly throw things in a pan. It has to fall in place with our principles and our storytelling and where we come from, so it has to have that significance on a plate,” said Francis. Some of this understanding is drawn from memories of time spent with his family at fishing camps in the Northwest Territories, up to 50 miles into the wilderness. “I pull a lot of inspiration from being on the land or being away out of the city and in a wide open space. That is where I feel my most creative.”
This theme of “modern aboriginal cuisine”, founded by Francis and his unique style of blending indigenous ingredients from across all the tribes and nations on Turtle Island, has now been put out there into the mainstream because of Top Chef Canada. Suddenly, images of Greens dressed in Sweetgrass Vinegarette and Maple Cured Salmon with Fennel are coming into the homes of Canadians everywhere, dazzling viewers appetites and given proper credit as indigenous cuisine.
Francis laughed, “In Top Chef even though I was the first aboriginal chef on the show I still did not see any First Nations pantry items in there. There was some indigenous stuff in there but no one knows it is actually our stuff to begin with.”
Since becoming a chef, Francis said he now has a heightened awareness and a passion to take his skills to the next level; doing what he can to help decolonize indigenous people’s diets and help them reconnect with the land and food. “Getting our kids educated about where our food comes from, where it’s grown, it will benefit us. It is a little bit more expensive. It’s cheap now to get the processed shit but you know what? Ten or fifteen years down the road you’re going to be paying for it dearly. You put that in relative terms and you’re not saving at all. It’s going to take a lot of work. I’m not really good with words or writing, but food is what I know. I use a hot pan and a sharp knife and I go to work.”
That work is something that the indigenous people of Turtle Island are rooting for Francis to succeed in. Fans of Chef Francis all across social media are crying out for seconds, saying Francis deserves his own show; part education, part entertainment, all bringing “modern aboriginal cuisine” into clear view.
Chef’s best supporter, his daughter Katharine, was alongside him as he spoke with the Two Row Times and said she was so proud of her dad. Katherine said one of her favourite episodes so far was “when he had to cook crickets.” Although the young lady does not know if her dad won the competition or not, according to her he is still number one. “I keep trying to get her to try seafood.” said Rich. Katharine simply replied, “No.”
Don’t miss the finale of Top Chef Canada tonight at 9pm EST on Food Network Canada!