NishDish: Toronto's Anishnawbe Cafe Serves Tasty Native Foods, Sparks Cultural Revival

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At the counter of Algonquin Ojibwe Chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette's tiny café in Toronto, you can order hearty ground-elk chili, Three Sisters stew, Arctic Char, turkey wild rice soup, dandelion salad, roasted venison and wild rice casserole, or simply a cup of Mohawk tea. After operating an Aboriginal food catering service in Toronto for more than a decade, Ringuette debuted his storefront café and marketeria, serving up traditional Anishnawbe (Nish) food and selling authentic indigenous wares, reported the Toronto Metro News.

Hundreds gathered to celebrate NishDish’s April 28 grand opening in Toronto and to eat and celebrate Anishinaabe food. With tables wedged together (NishDish seats 40), the party spilled onto the streets, reported TheStar.com.

Yet Ringuette's mission is bigger than selling Native food and turning a profit. He's devoted to reclaiming indigenous culture. Traditional food is just a platform, and a delicious one at that. Ringuette’s greater intention is to create a cultural hub for the community with harvest feasts and educational programming, drawing urban First Nations peoples together, while introducing non-Natives to indigenous culture. He envisions cooking classes, monthly art exhibits and workshops led by community elders and storytellers. “People are calling it a restaurant – but it’s not, really,” Ringuette told NOW Toronto.

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As for the food, Ringuette turns to indigenous farmers and producers whenever possible. Meeting strict health codes and going through suppliers is Ringuette's main road block. “It’s not a simple task, trying to create this food,” Ringuette underscored.

NishDish’s catering business stays booked solid, so those foods determine the café’s daily menu. They prepare extra, and scrawl the specials on a chalkboard menu. NishDish hones in on produce and protein like elk, bison and fish, as well as traditional grains. “We cook a lot without dairy. We don’t have gluten in anything,” Ringuette told NOW Toronto.

NishDish Grand Opening

NishDish’s grand opening on April 28 was a celebration of traditional indigenous food “as medicine nourishing the spirit,” Ringuette posted on Instagram. “See you soon! Chi-miigwetch!”

NishDish décor even reflects its indigenous focus, straight to the ceiling. Look up, and ceiling art illustrates the circular 13 moon calendar, identifying what to harvest seasonally and when. “It was our calendar before the settlers came,” Ringuette told TheStar.com. NishDish's exterior features a painted mural of a birch forest. The storefront, nestled in what NOW Toronto calls Koreatown, previously housed Tacos El Asador.

The marketeria features First Nations, Metis and Inuit handmade goods, like beaded jewellery and art, Ojibway-made maple syrup, Mohawk-roasted coffee, and moccasins. Ringuette also plans to stock a wall with NishDish soups, stews and more foods available to go.

Ringuette’s future goals involve opening a side patio for local artisans to sell their designs. If that takes off, Ringuette imagines starting an indigenous business district.

NishDish Chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette

Algonquin Ojibwe Chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette holds freshly prepped cedar-planked salmon ready to smoke.

Meanwhile, Ringuette is running a "culinary arts class" called Ojiibikaan- Roots, formed with the Native Youth Resource Centre. Through the mentorship program, he's teaching indigenous youth culinary and small business skills. Classes focus on ingredients, sourcing, budgets, cooking, serving and plating. For instance, students recently prepared elk sage burgers with sweet potato chips and an organic garden salad. Ringuette received dozens of impressive applications when he announced the Ojiibikaan- Roots program, but had to narrow selection down to 10 students for now.

Nishdish Ringuet Ojiibikaan- Roots Culinary Art Class

Ringuette teachs students in partnership with the Native Youth Resource Centre through a program titled Ojiibikaan- Roots culinary arts class.

Ringuette, 49, thanks his North Bay roots for his learning to prepare traditional Anishinaabe food. Growing up, his family fished and trapped, cleaned and cooked fish and wild game. Ringuette relocated to Toronto in 1988, finding work through an indigenous plea court: Aboriginal Legal Services. His wake up call to his higher purpose came when a spiritual leader “told me I have this other gift”— food, Ringuette told TheStar.com. Ringuette founded his catering company NishDish in 2005, and sister company RingFire to host events.

“The whole concept is about bringing back Anishnawbe to Aboriginal people’s diets because access to our food has been removed,” Ringuette told the Toronto Metro News.

NishDish Heirloom Carrot Soup

NishDish’s heirloom carrot, wild Ojibwe ginger soup with sweet potato crisps

NishDish Roasted Goose

NishDish’s roasted goose basted in thyme, stuffed with apples and cranberry sage dressing

NishDish Corn Cake

Don’t forget dessert: NishDish gluten-free corn cake with blueberry coulis and maple bourbon syrup

NishDish

The small NishDish cafe in Toronto seats 40 inside.

NishDish, 690 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario M6G1L2; (416) 855-4085; NishDish.com; nishdishcatering@gmail.com; instagram.com/nishdishmarketeria; facebook.com/nishdishmarketeria; Open: Mon.-Fri.: 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

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