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Food and drink: First on the scene with aboriginal cuisine

At a seven-course feast and the Lil’wat Café, First Nations are changing what we eat



From Stó:lō hip-hop artists to the participation of the Four Host First Nations, Canada's aboriginal peoples are playing a huge role at the 2010 Winter Games.

"The level of participation, hands down, is going to be the legacy in that it's given us the opportunity to educate the world (about) who we are,'' said Justin George, chief of the Tsleil-Waututh, in an interview with CTV.

Part of that legacy will be through an aspect of First Nations' culture that, until recently, has been a best-kept secret - their cuisine. With 650 First Nations across Canada, there's an abundance to draw from. And Ben Genaille, a Cree from Manitoba with 27 years' experience in some of Vancouver's finest commercial kitchens, was the perfect candidate to harness it.

Talk about a legacy: once the Olympics along with the Four Host Nations' roles were on the radar screen, Vancouver Community College asked Ben to develop its Aboriginal Culinary Arts program. He now teaches the program, which will be producing fully qualified chefs specializing in aboriginal cuisine long into the future.

"I've been promoting aboriginal food for about a dozen years in Vancouver... and the intention in developing this program was promoting aboriginal food and aboriginal cooks during the Olympics," he says.

Ben is also manager of the Aboriginal Culinary Team (ACT) that participated in the World Culinary Olympics last year. Here in Vancouver, it's enriching our Winter Olympics by, among other things, putting together a special seven-course dinner that will be served every night of the Games to raise funds to send the ACT to Europe for the next culinary Olympics.

This all arises from an authentic place for Ben, whose earliest food memory from his childhood in Manitoba is about as uniquely Canadian as it gets.

"I was eight and I was with my brother Kelly, who was nine-and-a-half, and my cousin, Richard, who was nine, and we had our 22s," he recalls. "Off we went into the woods with the baked bannock in our backpack that our mother made for us. We shot a rabbit and a pheasant, we started a little fire, and we roasted them.

"I can still see us sitting on the ground around this fire, having a little snack with our bannock. Then we shot another 20 or 30 rabbits, skinned them, took them home and put them in our freezer, then we went out and played hockey."

But you won't have to shoot and skin your own rabbits for the nightly Aboriginal Feast and Wine Pairings held in a traditional longhouse at the Native Education College in Vancouver ( ). Each course is paired with a wine from B.C.'s Nk'Mip Cellars, North America's first aboriginal winery.

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