SALMON N' BANNOCK

MODERN NATIVE CUISINE

Words by Amy Logan

Photos by Lindsay Vermeulen

Tucked into an unpretentious room near Oak and Broadway lies Salmon n’ Bannock, Vancouver's only First Nations restaurant. With a focus on fresh, regional cuisine with a modern twist, its name reflects two traditional west coast staples: wild salmon and homemade bannock. In 2009, while visiting a friend in Kelowna, Inez Cook stumbled upon a Westbank cafe called Kekuli that served First Nations cuisine. Smitten with the house-made bannock, she began to hatch an idea. She and her colleague Remi Caudron decided that the 2010 Olympics was the perfect time to open a First Nations-focused restaurant in Vancouver.

Highlighting wild game meats such as venison and bison, and fresh-caught, seasonal seafood like halibut and oolichans, the core ingredients are traditional. Fresh-baked bannock is always on the menu. Originally made from corn and nut meal as well as flour made from ground plant bulbs, bannock is often cooked over a fire. “There are many different kinds of bannock,” Caudron explains. “Some regional, some specific to a certain family. Sometimes bannock is made into a big loaf, baked, and sometimes animal fat is even added into the dough.” The complimentary bannock at Salmon n’ Bannock is slightly sweet and doughy, with a hint of smoke; mildly salty and deliciously chewy. Also on the menu is wine from the Nk'Mip Cellars, an Okanagan winery that is also owned and staffed by First Nations people.

The flavours here are clean and simple; the food speaks for itself. A creamy corn soup was garnished with fresh dill and studded with subtly sweet kernels of Iroquois white corn, an heirloom variety that dates back over a thousand years. The Quebec-sourced venison, sliced thin and seared, had a moist pink interior, and tasted faintly of grass and wood smoke. The halibut came expertly grilled, lightly charred on the outside, flaky and flavourful on the inside, and accompanied by a tangerine smear of sweet potato puree, with steamed carrots and green beans.  A peppery Nk'Mip Pinot Noir, with its lingering berry finish, was the perfect complement. Dessert was wild rice pudding, with organic black cherries, blueberries, and blackberries. Under the caramelized crust, velvety cream dotted with chewy bits of wild rice, and at the very bottom, a rich pool of tart magenta berries.

Caudron sums up the philosophy behind Salmon n’ Bannock’s careful choice of ingredients: “Food is definitely part of traditional activities depending on the seasons. In the western world, we just need to go back a couple of generations to remember that we did the same. It’s globalization that makes us eat strawberries from Chile in the middle of a Canadian winter. We have forgotten to live with the cycles of nature. Our grandparents and great grandparents had that knowledge.” At Salmon n’ Bannock, these cycles are reflected in their traditional, season-based approach to the pure flavours of nature, flavours that shine through every dish.

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