Vancouver Olympics – Meet Canada’s First Nations

As in Expo ’86, the VanOC organizers have made sure to include the native Canadian aboriginal cultures (which give rise to the depth of Canadian culture and whose artwork is recognized globally), in a visible presence during the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, BC.

At Expo and when traveling on Vancouver Island on another Canadian trip, I enjoyed some of the best Native American First Nations foods that I have ever had. And, everyone was delighted to showcase the native foods prepared in their time-honored ways. It was win-win.

Now, during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, you have two chances to experience First Nation cuisine at a much higher culinary level and in one establishment to participate to send a First Nations Canadian Native American World Culinary Olympics team to the esteemed competition cook-off in Germany later this year.

  • Here’s how you can sponsor the first aboriginal team to attend since their singular appearance in 1992!
  • In the 1992 World Culinary Olympics, the First Nations Canadian team became the first aboriginal team to ever attend. They rocked ’em, becoming the First Place winner, bringing home seven golds, two silvers and two bronzes, and great validation and respect for the native peoples. This is a potent tool for changing others preconceived perceptions!

    If you have the money and the inclination, the local Vancouver First Nation chefs are offering a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience a 7 course gourmet meal of aboriginal, traditional, often wild-gathered foods prepared by trained Native American chefs. More details follow.

    At Vancouver City College, an aboriginal culinary program teaches pit cooking, hot smoking, preserving and other traditional techniques and these well-trained First Nation chefs will someday have restaurants to showcase their ancient cuisine and culture. That will be wonderful.

    For you could say this is the first bona fide locovore cuisine in Vancouver, as First Nations foods go back thousands of years. For First Nations cuisine, their ingredients and techniques vary across the country from tribe to tribe.

    Here’s the details on this rare opportunity dinner:

    Chef and team manager Ben Genaille (of Kanata Cuisine), said not only are members practicing their culinary skills and team building at this event, but visitors and locals have an opportunity to enjoy authentic aboriginal cuisine paired with wine from Nk’Mip Cellars, which is B.C.’s only aboriginal winery (owned and operated by the Osoyoos Band in the Okanagan).

    During the Olympics, the feast takes place nightly at the Native Education College’s longhouse in Vancouver; tribal singers will entertain visitors with traditional songs and drumming, too.

    “For the next 10 days, we will be raising awareness of aboriginal cuisine and the aboriginal culinary team,” said Genaille, who also teaches aboriginal culinary arts at Vancouver Community College.

    Last year, the First Nations team trained with the Canadian national [Olympic culinary] team and were mentored by them. The Vancouver FN group went, as a support team, to see first-hand what it takes to perform at the level of a world culinary event.

    Genaille said the goal is to be able to send 18 members of the B.C. team to Erfurt, Germany. Before the big event, they are also planning to attend the World Cup in November 2010. All of this requires sponsors and money.

    “Just like an athlete where they do practice events before the Olympics, we want to do the same. It’s a discipline. You have to have a passion for it.”

    Greg Johnson, of the B.C. Aboriginal Tourism Association, said with so many events happening throughout the Olympics, their association, which supports the team, hopes that this rare experience does not get overlooked.

    Native Dinner host, Theresa Contois, said organizers decided 10 months ago that the perfect setting for the aboriginal feast and wine pairing would be the longhouse, located at 285 East 5th Ave.

    “It’s a place of positive energy, teaching and sharing,” she said. “We have developed a well balanced menu that showcases local and traditional ingredients prepared and plated for the gourmet palate.”

    The 7-course menu includes:
    ___ maple-glazed salmon skewers
    ___ crisp duck-glazed halibut
    ___ braised bison short ribs
    ___ cranberry bannock bread pudding with “Indian ice cream.
    ___ Each of the seven courses features wine.

    Cost for the feast is $245 per person. Tickets can be purchased online at ticketweb.ca, or by calling 1-888-222-6608.

  • Aboriginal House is at Queen Elizabeth Plaza. During the day, it’s often only open for only pre-scheduled, private events, but by 8PM, it opens to the public. Check the website, Aboriginal House, for early openings.
  • It’s a place where Olympic dignitaries are gathering. Recently you might have seen California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Governor General Michaëlle Jean there.

    Top-tier Cree First Nation Chef Arnie Olson puts in 18 hour days and guides his chefs to shape the native foods into contemporary dishes at the pavilion. There are daily platters (representing different Canadian regions) for $25; the regular menu features more casual fare ($18 to $29 for shared dishes and platters).

    That regular menu includes Native American foods presented as:
    ___ fried bannock with hot maple blueberry dip
    ___ a birch bark bowl of bannock with Three Sisters salsa (squash, corn and beans)
    ___ bison sliders with wild mushrooms
    ___ Salt Spring goat cheese and sweet potato fries
    ___ aboriginal pizza with wild mushrooms, ground bison and red onions.

    One platter offers smoked salmon crostini; crab cakes with Three Sisters salsa topped with top quality caviar; miniature squash stuffed with wild rice, sage and onions; buffalo pot stickers with wasabi mayo and buffalo satay marinated in thyme and sage with cranberry coulis.

    The caribou paté on bannock is also delicious.

    And, if you are lucky enough to attend a private meal at Aboriginal House, then you will experience foods like these on the special events menu:

    ___ wild rice partridge tartlets with cranberry drizzle
    ___ B.C. wild mushroom and chèvre tartlets
    ___ pemmican on bannock with Saskatoon berry coulis
    ___ seafood martini with ginger lime cream sauce
    ___ seared Qualicum Bay scallops wrapped with wild boar bacon and honey dill sauce.

    The good news for those languishing in the public lineup is that the pavilion has started selling food outdoors — venison stew ($5) with bannock ($2) from 11:30 a.m. “until it’s gone.”

  • Next, another opportunity to see more First Nation art, talent and more. The Aboriginal Pavilion store in downtown Vancouver is where you can meet members of the Four Host First Nations without a line. Their formal pavilion is at Georgia and Hamilton, but like all pavilions, it often has a crazy long lineup to get in. However, the adjoining store usually does not.
  • The Four Hosts First Nations’ store features a special line of Olympic T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies with have distinctive aboriginal patterns and designs. These are not shown on their online site.

    A portion of their store’s sales goes to Aboriginal youth programs, so while everyone else lines up for “official” Olympic and Team Canada gear at The Hudson’s Bay store a few blocks away, you can go here instead. By doing so, you’ll do social good, meet First Nation members and go home with something distinctly Olympic that doesn’t look like what everyone else is wearing!

    I did this at Expo ’86 and people still comment on those art and souvenir First Nation treasures they see in my home.

    First Nations Hosts Pavilion – Vancouver Olympics

    Enjoy!

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