Collaborating with Chef Paul Owl, we wanted to know more about his specialty meats and why it is a perfect addition to Tawnshi charcuterie boards. The following is our latest conversation with him.
Sage Butter Bison Bologna
"You know, the best part about the bison is where we source it.
My guy is local to my area, here right on Serpent River First Nation - Grand North Horizon in Desbarats, Ontario.
He just, he raises his bison right, man.
One of the coolest things about him is that he has his own abattoir that's provincially inspected. It's literally 10 minutes down the road from his farm. He brings his bison in there about two to three weeks prior. They actually spend their last three weeks at the abattoir so there's no day-of-harvest travel stressing the animal out.
You can taste it when you eat this meat. There's something different about it and I love it."
The Specialty Meat Process
"I do a fresh grind on all the meats we do. I buy it whole and I grind it down. There's no pork. There's nothing being cut in.
Then I make my mixtures - whether I'm doing the sage butter or maple blueberry bison - add kosher salt, and do a really good mix with a hand mixer. I'm real old school like that.
That mixture sits in the fridge for 4 days, doing what's called a lacto-fermentation, and that's really building that little bit of funk in that meat. But it's working with everything; the berries, the spices, the seasonings and the herbs. It’s all mixed in there and it's all going through that process together.
Because we're not using any pork, casings, or anything like that we actually hand roll all the meats. So, it's all bison. We put them in a hand roll and let that sit for another three days so that it really takes to its shape."
"Then we put it through a steam and we bring that internal temperature up to 160. It's a long process because the steam is only 20 degrees hotter than what we're actually cooking it to, right?
We let that cool down and put the cold smoke on it. Man, that's like, that's my life. That's what I love. I love smoking foods and that whole process of attending to the smoke and making sure that you got the right temperatures.That's anywhere from 12 to 16 hours and that makes all the difference. It hits your nose and then in the mouth, it's so good!"
Indigenous methods make unique specialty meats
What you're doing is definitely unique. I’ve tried places that have bison, venison or elk sausage but it just tastes like a red wine or curried European sausage. The Eurocentric idea of charcuterie is still very embedded. So, what you are doing is very different; different flavour profiles, different texture, and different story.
"That's the thing, right? There are different smoke houses and different curing houses. We're really looking forward to more of that. The original recipes didn't have the salts or stuff like that but we have all this modern equipment and new techniques that we can utilize. We can really elevate what our cuisine was and I think that's exactly what I'm doing here.
You know we're meant to share this land and work together and create a harmonious life together. I think having access to some of those things like the the salts and stuff like that just adds to our ability to take things to the next level while still utilizing traditional techniques like smoking and a lot of the original ingredients.
No one is using Buffalo Sage out there that I see, and we're getting such great success with it. People haven't tasted it before and when they do they're amazed that this is the same thing that we use for smudging.
"And then there is cedar. People have played with it. They salmon plank but they're not really utilizing the cedar to extract the flavors, like into a tea. Take that tea and make a gravlax with it!
That's one of the new things that I'm actually working on for an event. We're doing a cedar gravlax and we're infusing the cedar into our brine.
And sweetgrass has been used in salad dressings and stuff like that but no one's really using it to directly influence the meat.
At the end of the day I want the meat to really stand out because where I get the Bison from is phenomenal. Like, you won't get bison that tastes like this anywhere else.
Now I have the opportunity to really utilize some of our indigenous flavors. You know, our sacred medicines. If you take a walk in the forest you can smell peppery smells out there. You can smell sweet smells. These are all different things that you can utilize.
One of the things that I want to start getting into is utilizing balsam sap. You know, as it dries out and crystallizes it's got this really sweet, sugary taste to it. We've had balsam syrups and stuff like that and it really tastes like medicine. It has a different flavor to it and those are the things that we're going to utilize - like a sugar cure on a bison belly and creating something like bacon out of it."
The next generation of Indigenous chefs
I’ve seen first hand how you've taken your education and all your experimentation and pass that knowledge on to the next generation of indigenous chefs. What is your philosophy on keeping knowledge and passing it on?
"You know, I worked hard to get to where I am, to have the exposure that I've gotten. There's not really a ton of indigenous chefs out there that have big names. People can name, like, maybe three or four. So, I got a platform right now. It's time to let the next generation of indigenous chefs come into the kitchen and explore, play with flavors, and showcase their talents.
Like Sierra Conboy, her journey is interesting. I mean, she's just turned nineteen! I called her the other day to say, you know what Sierra, you have so much talent and so much skill. I got all these new guys coming out of culinary school and they've worked in restaurants, and none of them compare to where you're at at the age of nineteen. Like, you are so many steps ahead of them."
"Right now I'm recruiting her back into my kitchen. She's basically working as a community cook within her Inuit community. I'm telling her, you know you can always go back to your community and cook at any time in your life. But right now with your talent, and your skill, and the things that you want to do, I mean, you need a platform to express that. To get it out there.
You know, the times that I get her in just for a few weeks or something like that, to do an event with me, I'm always amazed at what she creates. I love working with this girl. She's a phenomenal chef. I just love the passion that's coming from her and the attention to detail in everything she does; from creating the foods and the flavors to working with the customer and that whole entertainment aspect of being able to talk about the foods and how you created it - guiding someone through the experience.
I have the ability now to really give them the exposure and the opportunity to explore. If you go to any other kitchen you have to do their meals. You do it their way. It's that old military brigade, right?
I'm trying to build up these young indigenous chefs and just give them an opportunity to shine - whether they got a couple months or a couple years experience.
Right now I have a golden ticket over at Madhoki Farm to really give them the exposure to build their names and get a reputation for themselves. I can give them a culinary education that they're not going to get in any restaurant. So far it's been working really well and I'm just excited to see where they go next."
We will have to come up with a new style of culinary school - the Paul Owl School of Culinary Discipline - with a focus on learning and experimentation.
"The Indigenous School of Funk!"
I’m going to quote you on that.
"That's basically what I feel like, you know. I feel like a teacher. It's not really about me anymore. It's about taking them to the next level putting them on the forefront.
If I can create ten new, phenomenal indigenous chefs, you know, that's ten more that didn't have to struggle and go through all the same sweat and tears that I had to. They get that opportunity to shine and then the world will take them wherever they need to go."
So, when are you going to be able to send us some more bison?
"My guys just went through one hundred pounds in the last couple days that have started to do the ferments. Within two weeks I'm good to send some more out, some new flavors too."