Murray McDonald is the new executive chef at the leading Indigenous-focused property in Canada, Spirit Ridge Resort — Unbound Collection by Hyatt. Nicolas Amaya photo

How a Newfoundlander Became a Champion for Indigenous Food in BC

Chef serves contemporary version of Indigenous recipes

By Adrian Brijbassi

Vacay.ca Managing Editor

The epiphany that sparked his dramatic decision to depart as chef of Canada’s premier luxury property took place for Murray McDonald on the edge of the land on which he was raised, doing the work he undertook to celebrate the only heritage he knew.

It was while foraging for ingredients for his dishes at the Fogo Island Inn that McDonald stood upright to stare into the North Atlantic – a body of water whose waves perpetually slap Newfoundland with salt, ocean and motivation. He recalls watching the sea and allowing a thought to slam into him like a hit of adrenaline. “Yes,” he told himself, “I am cooking Indigenous food.”

McDonald was on an outing with his apprentice, a Mi’kmaq chef, when this eureka moment changed his life’s purpose. They thought they were just gathering botanicals and plant flowers. But it turns out they were also finding a deeper link to McDonald’s past. His maternal ancestors were Inuit from Labrador and he had Métis bloodlines on his father’s side but never explored his Indigenous heritage until adulthood. The Canadian government suppressed Indigenous identity and culture for much of the 20th century, leading to lost lineage for many people.

“For me, it feels like part of my heritage was stolen away from me. I should have been raised and taught this stuff, but I wasn’t. I want to learn about this part of me, and the best way I think to do that is through the food,” McDonald says.

He has spent the last three years studying Indigenous cuisine and culture, collaborating with the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada to grow awareness of culinary traditions. Now, McDonald finds himself as the new executive chef at the leading Indigenous-focused property in Canada, Spirit Ridge Resort — Unbound Collection by Hyatt.

McDonald arrived in April to work with the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) and their expanding tourism initiatives. His vision complements NK’Mip Cellars. The winery owned by the OIB and Arterra Wines Canada has earned international renown for its collection of wines. Winemakers Randy Picton and Justin Hall have quickly become advocates for McDonald and the skills he brings to the South Okanagan Valley.

“Next door has always been trying to go with the theme about the land and that we’re Native, but it has never really hit the mark,” Hall says of the Spirit Ridge restaurant. “Murray has brought in something that is truly a little more from the land and you can taste it in the cooking.”

The restaurant has been rebranded with a name that refers to the legend of the Four Food Chiefs of the Okanagan Nation. The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry puts on a plate McDonald’s contemporary version of Indigenous recipes. He emphasizes the use of ingredients that pre-date contact with Europeans, and excludes gluten and added sugar. You’ll find bison instead of beef, menu items highlighting foraged ingredients like sumac and sage, and varieties of bannock, the flatbread that sustained Indigenous people across Canada for centuries.

“If you look at all the ways people are eating now – with the different superfoods and fad diets — Indigenous food has always been this, people just never realized it. I think it’s why Indigenous culinary is coming around and having a renaissance.” McDonald opines. “People are finally catching on that these Indigenous guys have been doing it for so long and we didn’t even know it.”

The restaurant makeover excites Hall, who is eager for the first series of wine-paired fall dinners at NK’Mip Cellars and The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry. “The things I love about the industry are getting together, getting away from technology, enjoying the experience. That’s what food and wine is about. And that’s why I like Murray so much. He makes really good food, and I try to make some good wine to go with it.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

At The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry, Chef Murray McDonald serves contemporary versions of Indigenous recipes. Nicolas Amaya photo

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Sidney company tastes sweet success with sugar kelp

Cascadia Seaweed is experiencing rapid growth after launching six months ago

Westin Bear Mountain invests $2 million to renovate newly-named spa

‘Amatista Spa’ has yet to announce official opening date

North Saanich floats tougher policies for buoys and moorings near Tsehum Harbour

Municipality also considers additional collaboration with Sidney and other communities

HarbourCats team up with Bastion Books to bring back Harvey’s Reading Club

HarbourCats and Bastions Books offer students free game tickets in an effort to promote child literacy

Central Saanich newspaper carrier gets letter of thanks, chocolates from her community for note

Ava Verscheure started her first very job by introducing herself to residents along newspaper route

VIDEO: Minister reports ‘modest progress’ after blockade talks with First Nation

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say Coastal GasLink does not have authority to go through their lands

Henrique scores 2 as Ducks soar past Canucks 5-1

Vancouver tumbles out of top spot in Pacific Division

Trudeau cancels Caribbean trip amid pipeline protests across Canada

Protests against Coastal GasLink have disrupted rail service

B.C. VIEWS: Inaction on pipeline protests not a viable response

Columnist Frank Bucholtz on how the Coastal GasLink pipeline dispute got so bad

PHOTOS: Top 10 memories of the 2010 Olympics

Black Press Media’s Jenna Hauck, shares some of her most memorable images of 2010 Winter Games

#FoxForFiver: Support grows in B.C. to put Terry Fox on new $5 bill

Terry Fox’ Marathon of Hope raised money for cancer research

Trudeau confers with cabinet ministers as rail blockades continue

The Trudeau government has been criticized for not doing more to end the blockades

Canadian nurses’ unions warn national standards for coronavirus protection too low

President says safety protocols nationwide are inadequate compared to those in Ontario and other countries

Most Read