Tabatha Bernard enjoys having lunch at her new favorite spot on Lennox Island, called Sweetgrass Gathering Kitchen.
It was opened two months ago and Bernard comes here almost every day it’s open because of the affordable meals at only $5.
The kitchen has become a community center for local residents, in his eyes.
“It’s very important for our First Nation to be able to come together,” she said. “We are people who like to get together, people who like to discuss, see how we are doing, help each other.”
Laughter and chatter filled the small dining room when CBC News recently visited. Everyone seemed to know everyone. They wondered about the family and talked about what was happening in the community.
“It’s great to be able to come here and know that you’re going to meet your cousin, you’re going to meet your friend,” Bernard said.
Freshly cooked meals daily
Bernard said the delicious, freshly prepared food also keeps her coming back. It is prepared by the kitchen’s lead cook, David McEwen.
The specialties that day were a grilled cheese sandwich and homemade vegetable soup, stuffed with tomatoes, carrots and beans. Most of these vegetables are grown directly on Lennox Island.
McEwen was in the kitchen baking the sandwiches and preparing servings of soup for those who pre-ordered.
At the same time, he was preparing the moose stew for the next day. The smell of stew, enriched with garlic, bay leaves and spices, filled the air.
“I have moose meat, which I marinate for eight hours in a slow cooker, so it will be super tender,” he said. “It’s a real treat.”
McEwen said he gets great reviews from his customers, who are not just band members, but also people from nearby communities.
He said there were days when the demand for food was so high the kitchen couldn’t keep up.
We had a few of those days where we just had to scratch the pot.—David McEwen
“We had to close it – within 45 minutes it was sold out. We’ve sold over 70 meals. And when you plan for 50 and you get 70, that’s a big jump. And that was wonderful. We had a few of those days when we just had to scratch the pot,” he said.
“It gives me great pleasure to see so many people happy, knowing that they get a square meal a day. Sometimes they are less fortunate, they have no cooking experience, and having homemade food is something I can’t like to describe.”
“A good start”
Leslie Labobe is a member of the community and comes to the kitchen regularly.
It’s walking distance for him. He said access to fresh, home-cooked food is important for people here, especially those living with diabetes like himself.
The condition led to him needing to have some toes amputated, as well as suffering from partial kidney failure. Here in the kitchen, he said he can enjoy healthy, balanced meals that “hit all the food groups.”
“Everything is made from scratch and not everything is from a can and it’s not from a bottle.”
Labobe said the centuries since colonization have deprived indigenous peoples of traditional knowledge about food and nutrition, and cooking is the first step to reclaiming that knowledge.
“We were never exposed to alcohol or processed foods that are so easy and accessible” before Europeans arrived in what is now called North America, he said. .
“So it’s a good start here, teaching our people that it’s home-cooked food here. And you know when a person likes the food because it always comes back.
“Once you’ve tried the food, you’re probably back the second, third, fourth time.”