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

Drugs, stolen bike and cheques seized during RCMP search in Castlegar

Two men were taken into police custody during the search warrant

Truck thief runs out of gas, Nakusp man facing charges

Pickup stolen from Coldstream, found not far away

Morning start: This is the fastest growing city in the Kootenays

Here is your Kootenays’ morning start for Monday, May 25

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Snow expected to hit West Kootenay passes overnight on Thursday

Up to 15 cm of snow could fall on Highway 3 between Paulson summit to Kootenay Pass by Friday morning

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Commercial rent relief applications open as feds encourage landlords to apply

Program would see government cover 50 per cent of the rent

COVID-19: B.C. park reservations surge as campgrounds reopen

Keep trying, many sites not reservable, George Heyman says

B.C. residents can now reserve a provincial campsite for a stay starting June 1

Campsite reservations will only be available to British Columbians

Cullen commission into money laundering in British Columbia resumes today

Inquiry was called amid growing concern that illegal cash was helping fuel real estate, luxury car and gambling

Bike shops busier than ever, but owners worry about stock supply issues

Uptick in cyclists brings new challenges for shops

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Most Read