By Kavita Sabharwal-Chomiuk
Art Napoleon is an experienced hunter, adventurous bush cook and television star. In fact, Art’s 13-part food documentary series, Moosemeat & Marmalade, allows him to combine all three of these interests as he explores Indigenous culture, culinary traditions and delicious food alongside his co-star, Chef Dan Hayes.
Dan has worked in the kitchen for over 15 years with some of Europe’s most revered seafood chefs. Dan’s cooking often reflects his classic French training and love of Mediterranean cuisine. When he’s not filming, Dan is the co-owner of The London Chef (alongside his wife, Micayla), where he teaches cooking classes and runs the catering side of the business.
Moosemeat & Marmalade, produced by Mooswa Films, brings together these two very different chefs as they travel to Yellowknife and overseas to the United Kingdom, where the co-stars explore a variety of culinary issues and cuisines, with a focus on how each relates to food security and sustainability.
When Art cooks, he loves to experiment with food, combining his knowledge of plants and wildlife with home-style cooking techniques to create healthy, affordable meals. While cooking, he follows traditional Indigenous practices, such as the respect for food sources, creating minimal waste and following ethical techniques.
The show has begun airing previous seasons in such far-flung locales as France, New Zealand and the United States. Canadian audiences, however, will be able to watch the show’s third season premiere on APTN on January 18. In preparation, I spoke with Art Napoleon about Moosemeat & Marmalade’s beginning, fan reactions and its third season.
How did you get involved with the show?
Initially I had a concept for a sketch comedy, making fun of food shows. I was connected with Dan through a producer I was working with – he was interested in Native culture because they have a completely different style in England. We were introduced and hit it off and that led to a screen test, which was posted on Vimeo. It drew attention from a lot of networks but APTN was the first one to throw some money at it and then it came to be.
What does the show teach viewers?
I think people are entertained by it. We’ve developed a relationship that allows for sarcasm and banter; it’s playful. People love the chemistry between us. It is also educational. Of our Aboriginal audience, 60 per cent of our people are living in urban areas, not on reserves. Some haven’t really had access to our communities or culture. I’m surprised by how much they’re learning. Non-native audiences learn a lot too, such as cooking techniques, our connection to the land, and the importance of food security. How food in the end ties everyone together, regardless of our culture.
Has anything surprised you about fan reception to the show?
I had some notoriety before this as a Cree musician, so I was already somewhat of a public figure, but the show took things to a larger scale. There have been moments where we were walking in northern Ontario and people stop us and want our picture taken.
What do you hope viewers take away from the show after watching it?
The whole concept of Indigenous food is something people didn’t realize, and maybe others have taken for granted. Their eyes are opened to it. Even if you’re looking at the old-school style of cooking, it’s all outdoors and very rustic. They had no idea of some of the plants we used and how we cook certain berries and when we harvest certain plants. It opens up the whole culinary world. Indigenous food consists of a lot of the food we’re all familiar with. It’s reminding people that this is where a lot of the foods came from, from this so-called new world.
How long have you been a bush cook?
I’ve been a bush cook for pretty much my whole life. The region that I’m from, we didn’t really have contact with the outside world. I got a taste of that old way of life, including the cycles of the land, hunting, harvesting and trapping. You had to learn how to cook for yourself on the trail. You grow up around it, you watch it all the time, and pretty soon I was doing it myself. I started using techniques passed down from my elders. Making the best of our scarce resources, I think that’s become part of my style as well. I don’t like to waste things. Now when I watch Chef’s Table (on Netflix), I see some of the top chefs in the world do that. We’re not alone.
Does cooking outdoors differ quite a bit from indoor cooking?
When I go into a restaurant kitchen, even I don’t recognize some of the equipment, but I’m learning through the show. Some of the things people might be surprised about with outdoor cooking: you have to know the fire, type of wood and distance to the flame. There are different techniques to use, such as hot coals, cauldron, big flame or burying in the ashes. There’s a learning curve but I think a few lessons and you’d be well on your way. After cooking this way for a lot of my life, it came to me through experience, through trial and error.
How do Indigenous hunting, foraging and gleaning practices positively impact food sustainability?
Anything that draws attention to food sustainability is a good thing. Sustainability is a real issue and I hope that it grows as an issue because it’s a good way to draw attention to it. Cumulative impacts have taken their toll. Moose numbers are decreasing, down significantly from previous years. Land is the cultural institution. It’s our church, pharmacy and grocery store; it’s a part of our history, our spiritual connection. Being out there is nourishing for my people. I think in Canada, people have taken it for granted, thinking our resources are endless and they’re not, they’re limited. There’s an old saying in Cree, ‘don’t crap on the trail you walk on’. I think that should apply to Canada as a whole. For what’s remaining, let’s treat it with more respect, and not as a garbage dump.
How do you feel now that the show is entering its third season?
We try to evolve the show but you can’t change too many things, once you have a set formula and the audience is used to that. We try to add new elements. This year we started focusing a little more on sustainability and food security. I think it should be interesting. We don’t like to repeat or hunt the same animals, so if that’s the case, we’ll eventually run out! Sometimes we fail and that’s real life, sometimes hunters fail. I’m excited but I take things in stride. Success comes, success goes, and I’m just enjoying it while it lasts. It’s an adventure.
Season three of Moosemeat & Marmalade premieres on January 18, 2018 on APTN.
Kavita Sabharwal-Chomiuk is the editor of RestoBiz.