Chef Paul R. Owl stands over a fresh tray of baked bannock in the kitchen of Mādahòkì Farm. “Everyone talks about how their Kokom makes the best bannock in the world,” he says. “Kokom means ‘grandma’ in Cree. I don’t mean to compete with anyone’s grandma but try this out.”
He hands me a roll, still warm from the oven. The crust is crispy like a baguette and inside is like a sourdough with a hint of maple syrup. As I chew and nod with approval, Chef Paul looks me in the eye and says, “I’m your Kokom now.”
That’s the kind of humour you can expect from Chef Paul; a little bit deadpan and a lot of kidding/ not kidding. It keeps everyone in the kitchen on their toes and a bit of levity in the work as everyone gets down to chopping, mixing, and cooking.
We had the pleasure of collaborating with Paul at this year’s Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival in Ottawa. Down a wooded path, away from the hubbub of the powwow grounds and the market, a green oasis was set up. There in a clearing were decorated picnic tables under canopies and Tawnshi Charcuterie boxes set out for an exclusive culinary experience.
In addition to the two types of smoked salmon, jellied cedar, dulce, pickled milkweed, and other ingredients we shipped out from Vancouver, Chef Paul contributed his Kokom-level bannock as well as smoked maple blueberry bison bologna and red currant sage bison pemmican.
The picnic experience also came with cedar infused drinks designed by Chef Paul – a wildberry chai and a wild mint. The cedar infusion lends the drinks a medicinal flair. If you like root beer, or Jagermeister, you will like these. My favourite was the wildberry mint!
"I know I could run my own kitchen somewhere else, but what we are doing here at Mādahòkì Farm is special," says Chef Paul. "There is a real purpose here to reintroduce indigenous cuisine and experimentation with how that happens. We have the freedom to try different things. I tell the cooks I mentor to chase failure, don't be afraid of it. That's the only way to learn, right?"
We couldn't agree more and look forward to collaborating further with Chef Paul and Mādahòkì Farm, bringing their unique and storied flavours to our charcuterie boards and boxes.