Chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette of NishDish (centre) with assistants Adam McLaren (l) and Lauren Lavalley (r) at Royal Ontario Museum, August 2017 – Photo by Shandra Spears Bombay

By Barb Nahwegahbow

Missy Knott rocked the ROM at the recent event to celebrate foods that have shaped the country’s culinary landscape. Knott, a young but seasoned performer from Curve Lake First Nation has a voice made for Patsy Cline and Hank Williams country classics. Her strong and sultry voice made people pause in their sampling of the exquisite and delicious dishes prepared by some of Canada’s top chefs including Chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette of NishDish.

The event, titled Canada’s Table was held August 15 and was sold-out. Over 600 people bought $65 tickets for the chance to taste food from different regions in the country and to sample Canadian beverage options selected by the LCBO and Vintages. The line-ups were long at all the tasting tables, but everyone was patient as they sipped wine and took the opportunity to trade comments about the tastiness of various dishes. From the conversational din in the hall and the smiles on patrons’ faces, it was clear that people were having a good time.

Chef Ringuette, owner of the recently-opened NishDish Marketeria and Catering was thrilled to be serving his Indigenous food alongside so many talented chefs. “This is amazing,” Ringuette said. He designed the menu to reflect the prairies and included: Bison Chipotle Sausage Baguette, Muskox Bannock Crostini with orange cranberry jelly, Wild Rice Casserole and Saskatoon Berry Crumble.

Eight hundred servings of everything went, it seemed, in seconds, said Ringuette, his table cleared of everything except for a few stray pieces of parsley. “The muskox was a really special item that I decided to do at the last minute,” he said. “And I usually do a mixed berry crumble but decided to do the crumble with Saskatoon berries,” he continued.

“We were working too hard and too fast to really interact with people,” said Ringuette with a note of regret. “The muskox was super exciting because most people have never had it and they don’t know what a muskox is. I explained to them that it has really long fur down to the ground and it has horns. And other people said our dessert was the best dessert they’ve ever had. I said to people, this food is part of my culture.”

Millie Knapp, Executive Director of Toronto-based arts organization, ANDPVA/Arts Indigena is pleased that ROM included Indigenous content in an event that was not Indigenous-focused. “We have so much talent in so many areas,” she said, “and that talent shouldn’t be restricted to just Indigenous events. Our talent is at home on any stage or in any venue. Tonight is a good example of a successful partnership and I enjoy working with the ROM staff.” Knapp arranged for both Missy Knott and NishDish to participate in Canada’s Table. She also partners with ROM annually to present an evening of Indigenous music, arts and culture during Indigenous Solidarity Month.

Knapp’s favourite dish of the evening was smoked mackerel on a buttermilk biscuit with mustard pickles and chives prepared by Chef Paula Navarette to reflect the Maritimes. “But it was all tasty,” she said. Unfortunately, Knapp missed out on the NishDish food.

“I’m living the dream,” said Ringuette at the end of the evening, “this is really exciting.” He has several projects in various stages including a culinary school, a rooftop garden, a knowledge and recipe exchange with elders, and the development of an Anishinawbe business district. “I feel very supported by our community,” he said. “NishDish isn’t only a restaurant. It’s an educational hub.”