In August 2019, hoping to learn about the Cree culinary arts, renowned chef Stéphane Modat took a break from the prestigious kitchens of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City to visit Chisasibi’s annual Mamoweedow festival on Fort George Island.
After spending a week fishing and cooking with his hosts, Modat turned many of the recipes he learned into Northern Flavours, a cookbook published this fall by Eeyou Istchee Baie-James Tourism.
“It was a fantastic experience! I met people who love their culture and who want to share it. Now, I can’t wait to return and explore what the other seasons have to offer,” Modat writes in the book.
He adds, “I thought I had seen big trout in my life. But no… If you go to Eeyou Istchee Baie-James, you will understand what a big trout is.”
Traditional cuisine, the book emphasizes, is “one of the greatest treasures of Cree culture” and illustrates the close ties between nature and the region’s inhabitants.
Modat discovered new types of bannock during his visit, including fish-egg bannock, as well as the joy of cooking a freshly caught trout with herbs handpicked on site. “No restaurant can boast having such a splendid kitchen!” Modat exclaims.
The cookbook features traditional recipes with sometimes a twist of modernity, including pike-egg bannock, stuffed trout, wild mushroom marinade and blueberry clafoutis.
Throughout the book, there is insight from Cree Elder Charlie Louttit, who accompanied Modat on his trip. Louttit describes traditional ways of preparing fish, from using a spit-skewer, cooking under sand, or frying on a flat rock, while emphasizing the love and care that his family taught him were just as important to impart in the cooking.
Originally from the south of France, Modat has a high profile in culinary circles. He has been the top chef at the Champlain restaurant in the Château Frontenac since 2013, published several cookbooks and won the 2019 Chef of the Year award at the Lauriers de la gastronomie québécoise, Quebec’s gastronomy awards.
The cookbook comes as both Eeyou Istchee Tourism (EIT) and the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association (COTA) together are emphasizing culinary tourism to promote the region.
“The region has infinite culinary treasures and opportunities,” said Robin McGinley, executive director of COTA and EIT. “This project is part of our desire to develop this aspect of the regional tourism industry and to offer unique, quality culinary experiences to visitors.”
McGinley said that her organization was approached by Indigenous Tourism Quebec about the idea, as they had previously worked with Modat on another project.
“I hope people will learn more about the region, and it will pique their interest to discover Eeyou Istchee Baie-James post-Covid,” McGinley said. The organization’s annual general meeting was supposed to focus on promoting culinary tourism in the region with various activities that included the launch of the cookbook. However, the AGM had to be postponed because of the pandemic.
The cookbook can be ordered through the Eeyou Istchee Baie-James Tourism website, escapelikeneverbefore.com