By Meighan Makarchuk, Chef Liaison, Edible Canada
Flying over hundreds of kilometres of melting snow and ice the landscape finally gave way to a tiny community dotted with colourful buildings. A treeless, icy world with ever changing and unpredictable weather. Very few people make it this far North and visit communities in Nunavut, but those who do receive a warm welcome from the people who live here, and are treated to awe-inspiring natural wonders.
Nunavut is one of the most remote and sparsely settled areas in the world. It has a population of about 35,000, mostly Inuit, spread over 1,750,000 square kilometres.
We stopped down in Rankin Inlet for the day and visited several art galleries and other cultural sights. The chef team and I also visited a traditional caribou processing/drying facility, stood out on the ice flow and tried to take it all in. We were all pretty silent and in awe of what we saw. After a whirlwind day we were back on the plane headed to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut.
Northern Food Security
I don’t take it lightly that we are leading a culinary tour in the part of Canada which is the most food insecure. Nunavut has the highest rate of household food insecurity in the country, with one in three people experiencing food insecurity every month. Many Canadians are unaware of the issues facing people living in the North, and raising awareness about this issue is part of the reason we’re doing this trip. Northern food security is a complex and longstanding issue. Geography, pollution, the impact of climate change on traditional hunting areas, as well as economic vulnerability all factor in.
The traditional Inuit diet consists mainly of fatty marine mammals and other country foods. Seal often making up the largest part of this diet. Whale, caribou, muskox, fish, birds and their eggs are also consumed. Vegetation is sparse and only available for a short part of the year in some regions. Leaves, tubers, seaweed and berries are gathered in the more Southern areas of the Arctic but have never been a large part of Inuit diet.
With minimal vegetables consumed, how do you get proper nutrition? Cold water fish and mammals have high concentrations of vitamins A and D in their oils and livers. Vitamin C is also present in liver, whale skin, and seal brain. Because these foods are typically all consumed raw the vitamins don’t break down and become destroyed as they do during cooking.
In modern day southern foods are available in these communities, but are expensive. Hunting and consuming country foods is vital and fosters a cultural connection between families and communities.
It was important to us to source ingredients as locally as possible, and support local hunters, fishers and foragers. We purchased caribou, snow goose, ducks, seal, snow goose eggs, turbot and arctic char all locally. In addition we made a financial donation to the local Hunters and Trappers Association – a group which hunts, processes, and distributes country food within the community.
The ice is melting and receding this time of year in Iqaluit, and as soon as soil becomes exposed to light it bursts into life. The morning of our signature dinner in Iqaluit, and also the summer solstice, we foraged for wild mountain sorrel, saxifrage flowers and Labrador tea. It was so interesting to see how these plants grow here. Above the treeline these plants develop as miniature versions of the plants we know back home. As our foraging guide local Chef Elissa Belanger said to us “Plants that have to work harder to survive just taste better” – very true, highly concentrated flavours.
Nunavut Signature Dinner
After a full day of prepping our local proteins, gathering our greens, and organizing our sides we set off to cook on fire next to the river in Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park. Of our four signature dinners this was the one I was most afraid of, but also most excited for. An outside event in the North, cooking for 100 people over fire with local ingredients. Many logistics went into making it happen, and our team pulled together and created an incredible feast no one will ever forget.
Our evening began with beautiful Inuit throat singing by two local artists. We invited members of the community to join us, local elders and politicians. For our feast Chef Ned Bell made a creamy turbot chowder – a much welcome dish on this chilly evening! Chef Wayne Morris served up seal, preparing it several different ways; seared seal lion on embers with triticale grain salad (triticale we brought with us from Whitehorse), rare seal with dashi broth and foraged greens, and a raw seal station set out country food style. Chef Jeremy Charles fire roasted duck breasts and served it with foie gras sourdough bread pudding (local sourdough made by Chef Elissa Belanger), Chef Stéphane Modat roasted stuffed arctic char. Rounded out with a salad of foraged greens with fried goose eggs. Local chef Josef Szakacs joined us and helped our team throughout the day. Dessert? Fresh ravenberry marshmallows by Chef Elissa. Keeping us well hydrated as always mixologist Grant Sceney made a hot apple cider kept warm over the fire.
The sun doesn’t set this time of year, and not many of us saw sleep last night, but it was worth it. Spending summer solstice in the land of the midnight sun with a group of intrepid travellers? The best!
Now we venture on to Newfoundland. Next stop, St. Johns!