by Jessica Jones For the Pipestone Flyer
When Ontario-born Indigenous chef Rich Francis, Top Chef finalist, found out he was heading to Maskwacis to film episode four of a new documentary series called Red Chef Revival, he turned to the Internet seeking out information about the community.
What he found was a barrage of negativity on gun violence, stories of a suicide epidemic and crime. But the portrayal was a stark contrast to what he, directors, and film crew experienced in January 2018 during their three-day filming of the series, Red Chef Revival.
The series follows three Indigenous chefs as they travel across the country, unearthing culinary traditions and exploring what modern Indigenous cuisine means to them.
“I have never been to that area before,” Francis recalled of filming in Maskwacis, speaking last week during a quick break of filming lobster divers in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.
“Everything that I Googled, everything portrayed in the media, was negative, but when we got there, it was everything but that,” he said of Maskwacis.
“The people have a total sense of community and my experience was amazing. The elder-youth relationship was really strong and the youth are fairly grounded in their culture,” Francis said.
During the filming of episode four on Maskwacis, Francis is shown hunting for moose, speaking with elders and the community in attempts to find new meaning to reconciliation by bringing people together around traditional foods. He cooks moose nose ragu for the community, alongside other chefs at the at Nipsis Cafe. He is also shown teaching students of the Nipisihkopahk School how to make their own moose leg salad.
The series hopes to build a better understanding of Indigenous cuisine, while also preserving culture for future generations.
“Before, food was a need for survival,” said Red Chef Revival director Ryan Mah. “But now it can be a platform for discussion,” he said.
“Food brings people together to converse and reconciliation is a part of that. The community has seen some terrible things, and we talk about this over a meal, but then we go to the school and the students are full of hope and they want to come back to the community and we have these meaningful conversations,” Mah explained.
The filming on Maskwacis is the most memorable for Mah, as it was the first time he took part in a sweat ceremony.
“The community was so happy for us to be there,” he said. “It was an honour to shine a light on this story.”
With beautiful cinematography, Red Chef Revival also touches on the barriers of serving Indigenous cuisine as much of the food used from Indigenous lands is unregulated and not permitted in a restaurant.
Francis, who started preparing modern Indigenous cuisine nine years ago, says he’s prepared to go to court and fight over food sovereignty.
“I still have to hide what I do, but I don’t apologize for it, it’s a vehicle to heal and I think it should be allowed,” he said, mentioning that reconciliation can’t fully happen if the government is controlling what he serves — traditional foods.
The entire series of Red Chef Revival is on YouTube, including Episode Four: Maskwacis. The series is also on the Telus Optic channel playing on the On Demand platform.