Life creates a necessity for the most rewarding of rituals: the act of cooking in order to eat. All human activity is related to this prosaic action, which takes place in every community in the world. Not only does cooking reflect culture, but it also reveals the resources found in a community’s surrounding environment.

I discovered a love for food as a child, later combining my passion for cooking with the desire to know the history and cuisine of the First Nations peoples better. This is the inspiration behind my original yet surprising dishes.

I work with foragers and hunters in northern Québec who supply me with exceptional products such as wild cattails and currant leaves. My venison carpaccio recipe, which includes cedar jelly and a sea buckthorn jam, is a great example of my cooking technique.

At its essence, my work is focused on adapting the traditional pantry of an ancient culture to modern tastes. For the First Nations, respect for Mother Earth is paramount. By staying in harmony with nature, my recipes permit me to rediscover forgotten flavours that long served as a cuisine of survival.

The Canadian wilderness has so much to offer: spices, herbs, flowers, mushrooms and roots, plus boreal nutmeg, peppery green alder (or dune pepper), wood cardamom, serviceberry, wild celery root and the Labrador tea, a tisane of local herbs. These are the colours in my palette of indigenous cuisine.

Venison Carpaccio With Cedar Jelly and Sea Buckthorn Jam
Recipe courtesy of Chef Martin Gagné, Restaurant La Traite in Wendake, Québec.

Slices of the freshest venison are garnished with the boreal flavours of cedar and sea buckthorn, a tart vitamin C–rich berry that can be found fresh or frozen at specialty markets.

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Prep time: 20 minutes
Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients:

Sea Buckthorn Jam:
1 lb (600 g) sea buckthorn berries, rinsed
14 oz (400 g) apples, diced
17½ oz (500 g) sugar

Venison:
12 thin slices venison
2 Tbsp (30 ml) cedar jelly
2 tsp (10 ml) duck fat
Fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper to taste
Microgreens for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Sea Buckthorn Jam:
1. In a saucepan with splash of water, cook sea buckthorn berries over low heat until they burst.
2. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into clean saucepan then discard seeds. Add apples to berry mixture and stir in sugar. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, skimming any foam that forms on the surface. Let cool to room temperature.

Venison:
1. Place venison on serving dish. Brush each slice with cedar jelly and duck fat, then sprinkle with fleur de sel and pepper. Garnish with sea buckthorn jam and microgreens.

About the Chef
Originally from Sherbrooke, Québec, chef Martin Gagné has blended his childhood passion for cooking with his Algonquin heritage to launch a career at the forefront of Canadian First Nations cuisine. After studying at the École Hôtelière le Triolet in Sherbrooke, he refined his craft at top restaurants including Le Hatley at the prestigious Manoir Hovey, a Relais & Châteaux property not far from Montréal.

Since 2008, Gagné has been executive chef at the acclaimed Restaurant La Traite in the First Nations community of Wendake, Québec, where he creates upscale cuisine focused on regional flavours, both indigenous and wild-crafted ingredients such as venison, salmon, bison, maple syrup and berries, as well as local cheeses and other items from Québec’s modern food culture. In 2014, he released a cookbook (in French only), Gastronomie des Premières Nations, where he talks about the inspiration behind his menus and shares his recipe for venison carpaccio.

Written by Martin Gagné, as told to Kat Tancock

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