By D. Vienneau
On February 3, Food Network Canada launched its newest culinary competition, Wall of Chefs, featuring an all-star line-up of 33 diverse culinary powerhouses from across Canada who bring their unique perspectives and opinions to the stage. In each episode, home cooks are put to the ultimate test under the watchful eye of the “Wall”—a revolving panel of 12 judges. Hosted by television personality Noah Cappe (Carnival Eats), each episode features four new competitors, three culinary challenges and a chance to win a grand prize of $10,000.
SAY Magazine was fortunate to interview the two Indigenous judges who appear in rotation throughout the first season’s 10-episode run. Here’s a closer look at Chef Christa Bruneau-Guenther and Chef Shane Chartrand and their behind-the-scenes experiences.
Chef Christa Bruneau-Guenther (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Chef Bruneau-Guenther is French Métis and a proud member of Peguis First Nation. She has spent nearly two decades increasing her knowledge of Indigenous foods, and refining her culinary skills and recipes. Bruneau-Guenther is the owner and executive chef of Feast Café Bistro, and since opening the restaurant, her recipe have been featured in various magazines such as Canadian Living and Chatelaine, as well as on Food Network Canada. Chef Bruneau-Guenther is also a recent recipient of the 2019 Manitoba Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award for a Business with a Community Purpose.
SAY: What was it like appearing on a television show for the first time?
Bruneau-Guenther: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show that has so many diverse and talented chefs on set all at once. To be invited on this show with so many top-notch chefs who I admire is very humbling. It’s also extremely exciting to see so many talented home cooks because that was me not too long ago. I’m just getting used to being called chef because I’m a home-cook-turned-restaurateur. It’s been a learning curve for me—learning how chefs operate in the chef world and how other restaurants operate.
SAY: Can you tell us more about your role as a judge?
Bruneau-Guenther: Being one of, if not the only, home-cook-turned-restaurateur on the show was certainly part of my role, demonstrating to viewers and the home cooks that you don’t have to be a trained chef and have gone to culinary school to be successful. I was able to share some of my cultural background, and if I saw a traditional ingredient being used I was able to point it out and share a little about it. It was incredible to appear on Food Network Canada and have the opportunity to critique other people’s dishes while also highlighting what we do at Feast in Winnipeg.
SAY: So how did you get into the food/restaurant industry?
Bruneau-Guenther: I actually started in the industry as a server and did that until I was about 22 years old. Then I opened and operated a licensed Indigenous holistic daycare for inner-city children for 11 years. It was during this time that I developed my cooking skills and began integrating food, culture and gardening into the program.
I come from a large Indigenous family and I grew up in Winnipeg’s North End. Growing up, I was very disconnected from my culture as it relates to food, mainly because of residential schools and how it impacted my grandmother, which impacted my family.
Over the years, I became very curious about our traditional foods and I wanted more knowledge. I couldn’t find one book in any library that shared that kind of information. So I connected with a lot of community Elders and First Nation communities to learn about our traditional foods so that I could incorporate them into the daycare program to create a healthy, balanced menu.
SAY: Can you expand on the importance of food to culture?
Bruneau-Guenther: Identifying with my Indigenous culture through food was very empowering for me and for the children and parents in the daycare program. When you can identify your culture through food, it gives you a sense of self-worth, pride and understanding of where you come from. It’s an opportunity to learn about all the traditions of how our people honour and respect animals, the sacred vegetables and all of the teachings that come with food, family and nurturing each other. I personally have a huge Indigenous food garden at home—I grow everything on a large scale and I do all my own canning practices.
SAY: How did you end up opening Feast Café Bistro?
Bruneau-Guenther: I never dreamed of opening a restaurant, but I was really encouraged to open an Indigenous restaurant because there wasn’t one in the city. I did a lot of research and found there were only a handful of Indigenous restaurants in our country at that time, and I felt a real responsibility to our community—to share our food knowledge. I wanted to showcase our culture, our people, our food and our music with the greater public and become a meeting place for our community. That was four years ago now.
SAY: What’s next for you?
Bruneau-Guenther: Personally, I would like to get to my cookbook. I have 101 recipes ready, and I would love to find the time to put my heart into it. My book would be for the home cook and about how to integrate our traditional foods into the home. That’s my style of cooking and my style of food. I would also like to start sharing my food and recipes more widely, maybe through videos.
Chef Shane M. Chartrand (Edmonton, Alberta)
Chartrand is the executive chef at the SC Restaurant at River Cree Resort & Casino in Enoch, Alberta, on Treaty 6 Territory. Born to Cree parents and raised by a Métis father and Mi’kmaw-Irish mother, Chartrand has spent the last decade learning about his culture, visiting with other First Nations peoples, gathering knowledge, and creating dishes that meld his diverse interests and express his unique personality.
A seasoned competitor on shows like Chopped Canada, Iron Chef Canada and Fridge Wars, Chef Chartrand can relate to the pressure the amateur cooks experience as their culinary skills are put to the test throughout difficult, time-limited challenges.
SAY: What is it about culinary competition that you enjoy—why do you do it?
Chartrand: I really enjoy the thrill of competing, but one of the reasons I do TV and competition is because I suffer from anxiety. I do these competitions to challenge myself—to face my inner feelings and face my fears. It’s not about fame and fortune, although if those things come with it, then that’s a bonus.
SAY: Tell us about what makes Wall of Chefs so exciting?
Chartrand: The reason the show is so interesting is not only because you get to see the home cooks battling in the kitchen but because you also get to see the chefs on the “Wall” challenge each other’s opinions. As judges we have to debate about who did the best job—the hardest part is deciding who wins.
SAY: How does the show set itself apart from other cooking shows?
Chartrand: When the cooks come into the kitchen, there are no lights on. Then the lights go on and the host says, “Welcome to the Wall.” It’s so nerve-racking for the competitors—you can see how nervous they are. All of a sudden they look up and there are 12 of us looking at them, judging them. Just imagine, you are given crazy ingredients, have a limited amount of time to cook your dishes, you’re competing against three other people, and it’s up to us [the Wall] to decide.
SAY: How did you become a chef?
Chartrand: I didn’t get into the business because I wanted to be a chef at all. I grew up on a farm raising chickens and horses. At 16 years old, I hopped on my bike and went looking for a job [so that I could buy things I wanted]. I came to a truck stop, and that’s where I started as a dishwasher. I saw other kids older than me cooking and I knew I could do that, so my first job working with food was to make toast for the cooks.
I thought it was going to be simple—white bread and brown bread—but when I looked under the counter, there were all kinds of other breads that I had never seen in my life. It was at that moment that I realized I knew nothing about food. It was such an eye opener to realize how little I knew. I was enthused about what I didn’t know, and that’s when I decided that I wanted to become a chef.
SAY: How did you decide you wanted to focus on Indigenous cuisine?
Chartrand: I graduated from culinary school and, to be honest, I was never that good of a cook. I never thought I was going to really make it until I figured out what my niche was. Outdoor cooking is my world—Indigenous outdoor wild game cooking. I am a hunter and a fisherman and so it makes sense to me; it makes sense to my community and my family. It’s also an ode to my mom and dad.
From now until the day I expire, I will be about Indigenous food. Why? Because Indigenous food is not part of Canadian cuisine and I feel it’s not celebrated enough. It’s not about the bannock or Indian Tacos. It’s about what is from this land—what you forge, what you can grow, what you can pick and what you can make. It’s about terroir, people, farmers. For me, that’s Indigenous food, indigenous to this land. And that’s why I do what I do.
SAY: Congratulations on your new book. What made you want to write it?
Chartrand: Thank you. I knew if we [Chartrand and Jennifer Cockrall-King (Contributor)] were going to write a cookbook, there needed to be stories involved because that is the Indigenous way. tawâw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine is not just about me and my recipes, it’s about everybody who helped create the book.
We took a different path and tried to reinvent what a cookbook is. I am a very transparent person. In writing this book, I wanted people to know who I am, and I wanted to create something that people can relate to. It’s not just a cookbook, it’s a storytelling book that follows my culinary journey, my childhood—including my years in foster care—in Alberta, and there’s also a page in it that talks about anxiety.
So many young Indigenous People don’t think they can be successful. I’m no different. I want to inspire people of all ages.
SAY: What’s next for you?
Chartrand: I would like to either host a show or have my own show in some capacity. I might even consider writing another book.
tawâw contains 75 recipes, stunning photos and inspiring stories. The cover is both striking and unique, featuring an image of Chartrand’s handprint coupled with his signature dish “War Paint” (quail and wheat berries on red pepper sauce).
For more information on Food Network Canada’s new show, visit: www.foodnetwork.ca/shows/wall-of-chefs.
Photos courtesy of Food Network Canada.