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Arts & Culture ᐊᔨᐦᑐᐧᐃᓐ

Chef Nottoway stars in Interactive Banquet Exhibition

BY Joshua Janke May 30, 2024

The Montreal Science Centre is set to whet your appetite with an exhibition that will delight food enthusiasts. Featuring renowned chefs like Normand Laprise, Paul Toussaint, Colombe St-Pierre, Charles-Antoine Crête and Cezin Nottoway, the Banquet exhibition promises to be a culinary extravaganza. 

“Quebec’s culinary tradition is multicultural and bursting with colour and is rooted in a rich heritage of high-quality local products,” said Cybèle Robichaud, Montreal Science Centre director. Premiering in North America on May 16, visitors can explore the chef through interactive activities that transform them into apprentice cooks.

The exhibition illuminates varied influences, from Haitian cuisine and Caribbean fusion to the rich tapestry of Indigenous culinary traditions. “Across time and culture, the banquet has forever been an expression of celebration and sharing,” asserted Universcience President Bruno Maquart. “It is an appetizing opportunity to look at food from a variety of perspectives and to celebrate the joys of coming together and eating well.”

At the heart of this exhibition, Chef Cezin Nottoway serves up rich Indigenous culinary traditions through engaging, sensory-driven activities. Her participation in the Banquet exhibition promises to be a profound experience, blending her cultural heritage with the universal language of food. 

For Nottoway, the journey into the culinary world began in her early childhood. 

“The first people that got me into cooking were my grandmothers and it wasn’t even by choice. It was more like, ‘Do it.’ Here’s some potatoes. Here’s some carrots. Peel them. Here’s some walleye. Filet it,” she said, imitating how her grandmother would instruct her in the kitchen. 

“It wasn’t forced, it was a way of living. I grew up in the bush. Sometimes we forget that simplicity is hard. Just for a task like boiling water, you have to find the wood, chop the wood, make the fire…cooking was complicated.”

This upbringing was not just about food but about community and culture. “When we would kill a moose, it would be a time when everyone would get together so we can butcher this moose,” she explained. “When my dad went trapping and came home with beavers, it was my job to skin the little beavers while my mom did the big ones. That was how I was brought up.”

Her connection to her heritage is evident in her culinary practices. “Anishinaabe means people of the land. Hunting is a central part of who we are. If that’s taken away from us, we will lose our identity. Eating moose meat isn’t simply feeding myself and others – it must be practiced as a ceremony. Serving moose meat is like sharing my hard work, my experience, my love, my respect, and my culture.”

Nottoway’s commitment to passing down these traditions is unwavering. “I want my kids to experience hunting. As an Anishinaabe, it’s part of my identity,” she emphasized. “And now it’s my responsibility to pass down the knowledge.” 

It was in summer 2017 after a day of blueberry picking when Nottoway, her husband and two children killed their first moose together as a family. 

“We were on our way home when I spotted a moose crossing the highway,” she recalled. Her husband asked what they should do, and Nottoway said to shoot. 

“He looked puzzled because shooting a moose on the highway is illegal, especially under a hydro line, but we needed our meat for the winter. I remember my daughter bursting with joy and my son recording the hunt and my kokum nodding quietly in approval.”

The Interactive Banquet Exhibition is divided into five zones, each offering a unique sensory journey. Nottoway’s culinary expertise and traditional knowledge brings these experiences to life, just as her grandmothers did for her long ago. 

The Kitchen: Part kitchen and part culinary lab, this zone invites visitors to step into the shoes of an apprentice cook. “At a young age, I learned to differentiate the various cuts of meat by touch. My grandmothers asked me: does your thumb go through it easily? If not, it’s ‘tough’ meat. If yes, it’s tender meat. I did eventually learn the names of each cut and their placement on diagrams in culinary school, but I prefer this simple technique when I cook moose.”

Nottoway also shares her unique smoking technique called piigidosiig, using a specific type of rotted wood. “You make a fire, and you get the coals nice and hot, and you’d use this wet wood that you have just picked, and that’s what you’d cover your red coals with,” she explained.

“It’s funny to say, but when the rotted wood looks like pulled pork and pulls apart just as easily, that’s when you know the wood is perfect for the piigidosiig technique. With that, you get this amazing smoke coming from this piigidosiig.” She has used this technique to smoke everything from meat to tomatoes and even cheesecake. 

The Appetizer: This zone focuses on the senses, teaching visitors how to sample food, use their sense of smell, and understand texture. For Nottoway, creating culinary classics means using the wild foods the way her grandmother would serve it, while adding something new that she has learned in culinary school.

“My grandmother seasoned her meat was with herbal tea and onions. You know how grandmothers love their tea,” she says. “There was always a pot of tea on the stove no matter what time of day. Why walk for water when the tea is hot and ready?”

Nottoway says that cooking meat with tea gives it an earthy, floral taste that is hard to describe.  “It’s just so homey, and it reminds me of my kokums. It tastes like deliciousness.” 

The Banquet: Discovering banquet etiquette and the history of banquets, visitors learn the cultural significance of communal eating. “Even today, I enjoy preparing my food outside. Cooking outdoors is freeing to me. It’s a way to stay connected to the elements: land, fire, water, air. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Nottoway named her catering business Wawatay (“northern lights” in Anishinaabe) to symbolize the colours of the spirits of her ancestors. Whether in the great outdoors or kitchen, or when serving dinner to visiting political figures, she’s made cooking a skill that anchors her in traditional cultural knowledge while she captivates critics with her culinary creations. 

The Show: This immersive multimedia show features sound and projection, enveloping guests in the aromas of a divine meal. “Just follow me. I will show you and you’ll never forget,” Nottoway promised. 

The Educational Workshop: This zone explores the physics and chemistry at work in the kitchen, hosted by the Science Centre’s educational staff. “Kibikdey nah? Or Kweewesin nah?” Nottoway says that in Anishinaabe culture, this is what someone might ask when you come to their home. It means are you hungry? Or, do you want to eat? 

“I guess you can say that’s where I get my ‘catering’ perspective from. When I cater people, I am not just feeding them, I am inviting them into my heart, my history, my culture and my childhood.”

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Joshua Janke lives in Montreal and is studying English Literature at Mcgill University. He is passionate about writing, social justice, and creating art.