Q&A Intyerview with Rich Francis
Q&A Interview by Eli Secody
Edited by David Whitney
Rich Francis biography provided by Rich Francis
Photo provided by Rich Francis
Twitter: follow Rich Francis
Aboriginal hospitality is all about community, a sense of belonging and contribution.
With that in mind we are obsessive about the details of our ideation of the perfect dining experience and strive to deliver an experience reminiscent to that of Native culture as well as evoking the emotion of appetite but in a brand new light.
We use traditional commodities, new cooking techniques and implement them in new ways, suited to our times but never abandoning our vision of benefiting Aboriginal gastronomy as a whole. This is the foundation and mission of Modern Aboriginal Cuisine, furthermore, that of Chef Rich Francis.
"If anything, Modern Aboriginal Cuisine is really about creatively doing a traditional dining experience in new ways, suited to our times as Native people. How do we do this? By using Indigenous commodities—culture, tradition, modern cooking technique and fearless creativity. More personally ... Modern Aboriginal Cuisine is an emotion rather than a conceptual entity in and of itself."
To this day Rich Francis pulls a lot of his inspiration from the tastes, smells and traditions of his childhood in Fort McPherson in the Gwich'in Settlement Area, Northwest Territories (NWT),the roots of his father. "I find it effortless to pull inspiration from the land mostly because that’s where my heart is." His mother is Haudensaunee, of the Tuscarora Nation from Six Nations, Ontario (ON), which he considers his second home. This is where he would develop a second layer of influence to his cuisine that you experience today.
Rich is a graduate of the acclaimed Stratford Chef School. While at Stratford, Rich was involved in the taping of Chefs School, a 28 part documentary for Food Network Canada, which portrayed the life of a culinary student at the demanding Stratford Chef School. Having received top honors in Advanced Cookery, he started his culinary career with respected chef, Michael Stadtländer in Singhampton, ON. It was at Eigensinn Farm that Rich developed a deep appreciation in terms of culinary significance to the farm to table mentality and artisanal handcrafted product.
Shifting his attention to Toronto he accepted a position at Splendido with one of Toronto's best, David Lee, whom he considers one of his most significant mentors, adapting Chef Lee's mentality and attention to detail to the customer, product and execution.
New York City was his next stop, being a stagiaire at Danny Meyers Tabla with a chef he met, Chef Floyd Cardoz, while filming Chefs School in Stratford. Here he further developed his palate and skills by executing complex Indian/American dishes created by chef Cardoz. New York City proved to be a valuable experience that still shapes his culinary career.
Peller Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake under Chef Jason Parsons was his next experience. During his time there he became familiar with Chef Parson’s philosophy and the regional cuisine of Niagara, in addition to the wine making process.
With big aspirations and determination he moved back to Toronto to explore his options, not realizing that involvement in a motor vehicle accident would forever change his culinary career. He never sent out another resume. During a year of rehabilitation his concept of Modern Aboriginal Cuisine was born. Since January 2011, he has been promoting his concept of Aboriginal Culinary Concepts. He specializes in Modern Aboriginal Cuisine by doing private tasting dinners/wine pairings, tasting events and food demonstrations.
Aboriginal Culinary Concepts serves as a platform to further develop his concept of Modern Aboriginal Cuisine while giving his customers the emotional experience of Aboriginal gastronomy. He uses products that are locally sourced as well as indigenous products from producers from Turtle Island. His restaurant, Indigenous, is in the near future.
"When you cook with emotion people can tell"
Chef Rich Francis & Aboriginal Culinary Concepts
What sparked your interest in the culinary arts?
I had always loved cooking even at a young age. I ultimately became unfulfilled later on down the road as a carpenter. The money was great but my soul ached for something more. I applied to one of the best schools in the country and somehow got in with no experience. I was a sponge and took everything in. When I first set foot in a professional kitchen I had realized that I was going to become a chef. After two years I finished at the top of my class in advanced cookery. And here I am today pushing forward, my own concept of Modern Aboriginal Cuisine.
What is your food philosophy or approach to cooking?
As a chef I think if you’re going to do anything meaningful that people will notice you have to cook from a place that’s unique to you. Get your training, never stop learning, but at some point people are going to want to see who you are on the plate. Not your chef from NYC or wherever, they want to see who you are. I try to keep things simple, which can often be the hardest thing to do. And above all I try to keep things as pre-contact as possible, using mainly produce indigenous to Turtle Island. It can be tough though, especially with all the stuff that’s out there but that’s where fearless creativity comes in and exhausting all your possibilities for a certain dish. An on-going process of trial and error.
What’s my favorite restaurant in the city I live in?
Hands down it has to be this little Vietnamese restaurant that I had no idea even existed until I mistakingly walked by it. From the outside it looked nothing like a restaurant. I walked in. No one spoke a lick of English and the menu was all in Vietnamese. The chef was this little old man who was quiet. I told the waitress I’ll have that, that and that not knowing what I ordered. Definitely, one of my top five meals ever. It was authentic and I think that’s what was so memorable about it. A true hidden gem.
When did you know you wanted to become a chef?
I wanted to become a chef when I realized you could evoke emotion out of someone simply by eating your food. When you cook with emotion people can tell. Reaching that wow factor and rendering people speechless is something I’ve grown to love (laughing).
What are your favorite ingredients to work with?
I use a lot of traditional medicines and herbs (all the sacred medicines, burdock root, horsetail herb; there’s quite an extensive list) in my cooking. Stuff that you don’t ever see on a menu or have a reference for. And I love that. I don’t use them for medicinal purposes but rather as flavor carriers. Using different combinations of this or that in smoking, curing, braising, rubs, infusions and such, making a new flavor for say, a musk ox tenderloin, and producing a remarkable dish. That’s what drives me, new possibilities for me and my customer to experience.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I find scrubbing pots and pans to be therapeutic to one’s soul. But that’s between us…
What’s next for you?
My restaurant, Indigenous. Specializing in my concepts and ideas of Modern Aboriginal Cuisine, Niagara on the Lake in Ontario, Canada.