Shooniya Wa-Biitong bringing families together with virtual cooking classes

By Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Break out your chef’s cap and fire up the oven – it’s time to get cooking.

Shooniya Wa-Biitong has created a series of hands-on cooking workshops for those in the district to attend to help boost their skills and confidence in the kitchen, and also help to strengthen bonds as the whole family pitches in to create healthy and inspired Indigenous Fusion recipes from the comfort of their own kitchen. Offered weekly for three weeks beginning last Sunday, the online workshops have been a novel way for Shooniya Wa-biitong to reach out to its community and help bring people together during a difficult time. Anokiiwin manager Dana Bridgeman Cross said the idea for the classes came from a brainstorming session to try to connect with youth in different ways.

“We had a staff meeting a couple of months ago now and they just suggested we start thinking outside the box and trying to generate different ideas,” she explained.

“Then three of us, myself, [youth program coordinator] Tracey Councillor and [stewardship youth ranger coordinator] Maryam Seid started talking about cooking. Tracey has a youth target so we wanted to do something that would engage youth, and I suggested cooking and partnering with restaurants, but we couldn’t find a First Nation chef that was local, so Tracey suggested the Wolfman. We got in touch with him and now it’s just been putting it all together on this end. It’s been really great.”

The Wolfman in this case is chef David Wolfman, a classically trained chef who is also a professor of the culinary arts at George Brown College. According to his biography, Chef Wolfman is “an internationally recognized expert in wild game and traditional Aboriginal cuisine.” In partnership with the chef, those registered for the Shooniyaa program will tackle a different recipe each week that blends contemporary classics like a meatloaf with a traditional Indigenous twist, such as making the meatloaf with cranberries and a mushroom sauce.

Councillor noted the benefit to having the classes focus on cooking was the fact that the recipes were something families could do together, and Bridgeman Cross added that the hope was to simultaneously encourage families to try different things together too.

“Normally we stick to the same kind of recipes and we do the same things and we really wanted people to step outside their normal box of what they like and try new things in a different way,” she said.

“It’s nice because the Wolfman recipes are traditional options as well. For the meatloaf, traditionally [chef Wolfman] would use moose meat. For this purpose we’re using beef, but it’s a great option people have for the future that they could use the harvest from the fall and winter.”

Paired together with the cooking classes, chef Wolfman has also been using the sessions to teach more practical kitchen skills like filleting fish, or proper knife sharpening techniques, ensuring that there is plenty to learn for those who have registered. Fortunately for Shooniya Wa-Biitong, but not so great for those still looking to take part, the response to the three sessions has been strong.

“The registration has been pretty seamless,” Seid said.

Some of the families taking part in the cooking workshops being offered by Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong were provided with a bag full of all the groceries and ingredients they would need for that week’s recipe, plus a useful kitchen tool. -Facebook photo

“We have all of our sessions full. We’ve had a very positive response and it seems people are really interested and excited to learn some new skills and cook with their families.”

The organization used the registration numbers to put together packages for those taking part, filling them with all the ingredients and groceries they would need for the session they had registered for, and a few other kitchen goodies that would come in handy both during the session and in the future. The response was strong enough, Bridgeman Cross explained, that they also opened the sessions up to a few extra people who would be allowed to take part but had to provide their own supplies for the recipe, ensuring that the maximum number of people would be able to learn together. Seid noted 45 families from across the Treaty #3 area had registered to take part in the sessions. Members of other community organizations had also volunteered to help deliver the supplies to those who were receiving them across the region.

Another thing that Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong made an effort to achieve with the program was to source the ingredients used in the recipes not only as locally as possible from businesses in the area, like The Place and Einar’s, but from Indigenous sources as well.

“We’ve been able to support some local Indigenous fishermen and harvesters,” Seid said.

“We purchased wild rice for a session from a local Indigenous man, we’ve purchased walleye from a local Indigenous man as well.”

The final session in the cooking series is set to run this Sunday, and while Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong is excited by the response they’ve seen so far, there’s still work to be done before they can offer something similar in the future.

“We don’t have a plan as of yet,” Bridgeman Cross said.

“This is our test run for food. We’ve had a great response and good feedback, but it’s an organizational decision as to how we’re moving forward. We do have lots of other workshops and opportunities. We’ve had talks of potentially a gardening project for spring/summer. A financial literacy program is coming and we still have a couple spots open. We have other sessions, but as an organization, that will be determined later.”