Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre chef Alok Semwal carefully drizzles a made-from-scratch berry sauce over a piece of pound cake, then places it on a meal tray next to elk stew, whipped squash and a garlic knot bun.
Inspired by Indigenous culture, this meal was one of nearly 400 served to Edmonton General residents on June 21 in honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day. In preparation for offering this special menu, Alok spent several hours researching traditional Indigenous food and designing recipes that would fit various resident diets and preferences.
While creating a new menu from scratch takes careful planning and coordination by the food services team, Alok says they learn something new each time — like how to prepare elk meat.
“For residents who don’t know about Indigenous culture or meals, I think it’s an opportunity for them to connect and understand the history of the land,” Alok says. “And as a chef, whenever I research special cuisines, I learn something new. It makes you more educated each time you explore a new culture or a new way of cooking.”
“This is our third time preparing an Indigenous food menu at the General, and we’re getting better at it each time,” says Kevin Smith, manager, hospitality services. “We did a lot of research into what the food is like, what kinds of recipes we can use and how we can make it as authentic as possible.”
Beyond giving residents a chance to enjoy something new and delicious, serving Indigenous-inspired food is an opportunity to learn, honour and engage with Indigenous culture at sites, says Indigenous liaison Valerie Courchene.
“We feel accepted when they start to share our foods,” says Valerie. “And for non-Indigenous residents, it’s a cultural teaching opportunity for them to indulge in something they haven’t tried before.”
The Edmonton General is one of many Covenant sites honouring Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous People’s Day by serving special meals for residents and patients.
Kari Clair, hospitality services manager at St. Michael’s Health Centre in Lethbridge, says she and her team always welcome the opportunity to serve culturally diverse meals throughout the year. They not only enjoy serving special meals but also appreciate having the opportunity to deepen their cultural awareness.
“For me, it’s about educating myself,” Kari says. “It’s about immersing ourselves into it, learning the history and understanding what’s important to the culture so we can honour that. It’s absolutely worth the effort, and we’ll continue to honour National Indigenous Peoples Day.”
The path to deepening our cultural awareness and understanding starts with curiosity and taking the initiative to learn, Valerie says. For those looking to expand their knowledge, she recommends attending Indigenous celebrations and ceremonies such as powwows and round dancing, along with watching Indigenous-made films and reading.
“Everybody needs to have an open mind about all cultures and take that time to learn,” Valerie says. “It’s a way for us to welcome and respect each other’s cultures and identities.”