Meditations

Video: Cooking salmon on an alder fire with Sechelt Nation


Sechelt-Nation-Traditional-Salmon-Foodists

Watch as the guys brave the elements and learn the traditional First Nations technique for cooking salmon as guests of the shishalh (Sechelt) Nation on BC’s Sunshine Coast.

At the age of about eight I remember a class field trip to the Museum of Vancouver. We’d seen quite a lot, but it was the small piece of succulent sockeye cooked with a hot rock in a cedar bentwood box that seared its way into my sense memories. I didn’t taste better salmon for years.

Having grown up in Richmond also meant an annual tradition to celebrate the once healthy salmon returns at the Steveston Salmon Festival. From what I recall, there was a parade and a bunch of other activities, but it was the massive pits of charcoal and racks and racks of salmon fillets being grilled that made the whole thing worthwhile for me. To this day, much as I like a gently cooked piece of salmon, there’s something about the scent and flavour of the caramelized exterior and crunchy skin of a flame seared salmon that I just love.

As a British Columbian, salmon has always been a part of my life: Grilled, baked, barbecued, steamed, sautéd, even planked, but butterflied over an open alder wood-stoked fire was elusive. I’d seen photos, looked online for details of the techniques, but never seen or experienced it personally. Until now.

In the summer of 2014, I was having lunch with our good friend and barbecue champ/cookbook author Rockin’ Ronnie Shewchuk. Before our meal arrived, he shows me a video he shot of Sechelt Nation Elder Jamie Dixon preparing salmon in their traditional way. Ronnie went on to explain the process and also how he’d come to be there. Ronnie has a gift: he can talk and cook at the same time, coherently, and with brilliant results. He’s also a corporate communicator and formed a partnership with Candace Campo of the Sechelt Nation to start running corporate kayaking retreats on the Sunshine Coast that culminate in a traditional salmon cook. I wanted in.

Turned out I had to wait until October. The Sechelt Nation were, for the first time ever, opening their doors to the public to celebrate their abundant 2014 harvest. We were told to hop a ferry and plan to help! So, just before Halloween, we excitedly bundled up on a bitterly cold, rain-lashed day (right?) to finally see and taste this historic preparation of salmon.

I could go on, but it’s much better to just watch us all in action. In Ronnie’s words:

You’ve gotta see this video. Last October, at the first annual Sechelt Salmon Festival, I had the great honour of serving as apprentice to Sechelt Nation Elder Jamie Dixon as he shared his people’s traditional method of roasting salmon over an open alder fire before an enthusiastic crowd.

As Jamie and I were preparing for the historic demonstration — the first time the Sechelt Nation has ever shared the ancient technique with the public — my friends Ben Garfinkel and Mark Busse, founders of the Foodists, dropped by with fellow Foodists for an exclusive hands-on demo of their own.

The action was captured by Ben’s brother, Vancouver film-maker Nathan Garfinkel. Nathan was assisted by Andrea Busse and Mahyar Saeedi…

What a day it was! It’s so great to have this video as a souvenir, and I’m delighted to share it with you.

The day was as interesting and tasty as it looked. However, if it’s not obvious in the video, I got completely smoked out. My eyes were so red and stinging it was hard to keep them open. I looked like I’d been crying for days, but it was worth it.

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