Chef Joseph Shawana received an email from one of the recipients of a Feast Box, delivered over the holidays in Toronto as well as other major cities across Canada as part of a project of the non-profit organization Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations (ICAN), which he chairs. The message came from a woman who wrote about her mother, who was very ill. She had not eaten in days, until the box containing delectable treats – including freshly baked rye sourdough bread, sweet potato and bean soup, roasted acorn squash with maple, and sumac and evergreen salted arctic char – arrived at her door. At that point and much to the surprise and happiness of her family, the mother consumed two helpings of the delicious and nutritious meal.
For Chef Shawana, who was born and raised in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Reserve located on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, the story reflects why he believes food prepared traditionally, “the way our mothers and grandmothers did,” is so much more palatable. Cooked with “whole, natural, fresh ingredients and a lot of love just makes it taste better.”
Chef Shawana, who won the “best world cuisine” award in 2019 with his restaurant Ku-Kum Kitchen in Toronto, says that growing up with his family on the reserve instilled in him the power of food as a catalyst to bring people together and as a way to preserve and share stories. “Food is just a sense of community,” he states. And that’s what prompted the concept of assembling Feast Boxes to “help nourish the less fortunate in the city.”
While ICAN raised $57,000 to fund the national project featuring Indigenous cuisine, which in Toronto saw the delivery of 200 boxes feeding a household of four, potentially serving up to 1,200 people, Centennial College became a key partner in the venture. The food was prepared and assembled for delivery at the college, with the help of eager volunteers, including Centennial’s president and CEO, Craig Stephenson.
Chef Shawana, who teaches culinary arts at the college, says, “It was really humbling to be part of such a great team.”
Suzanne Caskie, chair of Food and Tourism Studies at Centennial College, also jumped in to help with the Feast Boxes, a program that aligns with the college’s “deep commitment to supporting community,” she says. “We have the privilege in culinary arts to break bread and sit at the table together. Like Chef Joseph, those of us in the industry understand the importance of that privilege and that it means we have an opportunity and responsibility to be widespread with our knowledge, our skills, with our facilities and with our team members.”
Stemming from the partnership with Chef Shawana, Centennial College is launching a new project in collaboration with the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, which distributed the holiday meals. This time, they’ll be “delivering between 100 and 200 loaves of beautiful fresh artisan bread baked on a weekly basis,” says Ms. Caskie.
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Colleges and Institutes Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.