Zach Keeshig is the head chef and owner of Naagan, a pop-up restaurant at the Owen Sound Farmer’s Market. His time in the kitchen of places like Michael Stadtländer’s Eigensinn Farm, The Restaurant at Pearl Morisette, and Langdon Hall has helped him fuse his Ojibwa cuisine with modern culinary techniques and ingredients. Canada’s 100 Best did a Q & A with him recently to ask about his vision for progressive aboriginal cuisine.
So how do you define progressive aboriginal cuisine?
I had travelled around and had worked with Michael Stadtländer and was inspired by what he was doing.
When I first had the idea of doing Aboriginal food, I wanted to recreate old dishes or old recipes that were straight from the reserve that I’m from. But honestly, there wasn’t much to try to reimagine. So that’s where I came up with the idea of progressive Aboriginal work. Now we’re inventing the cuisine as we go along, but we’re using modern techniques.
What is Naagan?
Naagan means “dish”in Ojibwa. We showcase that in a nine-course tasting menu. We use things that we’ve either sourced locally, we’ve grown, or we’ve gone out and foraged, sourcing ingredients from the best farms in the area. They’re dug out of the ground that day and on the menu that night.
How are you able to interact with and learn about your own culinary history as you grew up?
We have some dishes that are on the menu right now that my grandmothers and my aunts used to make for us. For instance, they used to make an Ojibwa bannock, but they would make the dough, roll it in hot dogs, deep fry it, and we’d dip it and ketchup and mustard.
What place should indigenous cuisine have within Canada’s food and dining industry and within fine dining as we know it today?
We’re so used to being able to go out and eat French food, Italian food, and Chinese food. But you never hear anybody saying, “Oh, let’s go out for a tasting menu that has Aboriginal inspiration.” And that’s where I think Aboriginal cuisine should be right up there with what everybody else is doing.
Chef Keeshig’s dinners are held in the Historical building of the Owen Sound Farmer’s Market. See below for upcoming dates; more are coming soon:
Sunday, October 2
Saturday, October 29
Sunday, October 30
Photography Credits Alyssa Joline and Suresh of Toronto Star