Chorney-Booth: Indigenous-inspired food and stories on the menu at Little Chief

Article content

Indigenous culture is an integral part of life in Southern Alberta – the Treaty 7 nations have been generous in sharing dance, music, storytelling, and other art forms with non-Indigenous neighbours. Indigenous-informed cuisine is also becoming a cultural point of widespread interest, with items like fry bread, bison, and foraged plants showing up on an increasing number of restaurant menus.

Advertisement 2

Article content

The Little Chief restaurant – part of the enormous Grey Eagle Resort and Casino complex on the Tsuut’ina Nation – has long offered dishes built around local ingredients and Indigenous traditions, but the restaurant recently got a boost when chef Brandon Dashnay, who has worked within the resort’s various kitchens since 2015, took over as restaurant chef this past August. Dashnay is not Indigenous himself, but he grew up in Quebec with a family of hunters who taught him the importance of respecting the full potential of any food source. His wife and child are both members of the Tsuut’ina Nation and that familial connection and deep respect for First Nations culture, coupled with experience in small, creatively inclined restaurants, shines through in Little Chief’s new menu.

Article content

Little Chief
Chef de Cuisine, Brandon (“Dash”) Dashnay of Little Chief at the Hotel at Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

“I’m trying to give people a ‘wow’ experience and also a little history and storytelling to go along with it,” Dashnay says. “A big part of First Nations culture is the storytelling.”

Dashnay tells those stories in small ways throughout Little Chief’s a la carte menu, which does what it needs to do as a hotel restaurant with approachable breakfast and casual fare, as well as some more complex dishes to add extra flair. The bannock game is strong – the fry bread and oven-baked bannock come from a recipe provided by an elder and pair especially well with a bowl of warm Saskatoon berry soup ($10). Other favourites include chicken pot pie with, in true multi-cultural style, pastry made from a staff member’s Ukrainian grandmother’s recipe ($26), a hearty elk meatball ($19), juniper braised short rib ($42), and a unique charcuterie board stacked with house-cured meat and fish ($28).

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Little Chief
The Fenugreek Cured Salmon Ham on Friy Brea at Little Chief. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

For food that tells a fully immersive story, Dashnay has also introduced a special by-reservation-only chef’s tasting experience. Groups as small as two or as large as 20 can book a multi-course feast that sees the chef pushing his creativity with special items that take on more complex flavours, techniques and artistic presentations. Dashnay walks the table through the story and intent behind each dish in an entertaining and informative process that, given Dashnay’s skill in the kitchen, is also incredibly delicious.

Little Chief is located on the hotel end of the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino at 3779 Grey Eagle Drive. The restaurant can be reached at 587-390-1400 or through greyeagleresortandcasino.ca. Please note that the chef’s tasting experience must be booked at least a few days in advance by calling or emailing the restaurant.

Little Chief
The House-Made Charcuterie Board at Little Chief. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia
Little Chief
The Breads and Spreads dish at Little Chief . Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia
Litle Chief
Little Chief at Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

***
Meanwhile, a different chef-centred experience just opened downtown in the Meat and Bread sandwich shop. The shop has a long history of hosting nighttime pop-ups and the latest is Francine’s, a new concept from chef Garrett Martin and bar manager Nate Wry, both well-known for their prominent roles with the Concorde Group.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Restaurant watchers have been particularly curious to know what Martin, the former culinary director at Concorde, would be up to next and the answer is a fun and lively little French-inspired bar. Francine’s menu is small but mighty, with dishes like cheese puffs served with whipped brown butter ($4 each), bright and buttery Parisienne gnocchi ($29), Normandy fried chicken served on toasted milk bread ($24) and, for dessert, a rich and custardy French toast (a.k.a. “pain perdu”) topped with ice cream, honey caramel, and comté cheese (comté, blissfully, plays a role in several of Francine’s dishes). Wry completes everything with an equally compact wine list and an engaging collection of cocktails, including a fantastic signature house martini.

Martin says Francine’s will likely stick around at Meat and Bread as a long-term pop-up well into the spring while the crew looks for a permanent bricks-and-mortar location. For now, visit it at 821 1st St. S.W. from 5 p.m. onward Wednesday through Saturday. For reservations and more information, visit francines.ca.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Finally, if anyone has a name made for a food endeavour, it’s Calgary Flames player Andrew Mangiapane, whose Italian surname translates to “eat bread.” In support of Mangiapane and his fiancé Claudia’s Mange’s Breadsticks community youth program, he’s teamed up with the Italian Centre Shop to bake 250 loaves of fresh pagnotta bread, all marked with the number 88. The bread goes on sale next Saturday, Feb. 17 at 9 a.m. and the Italian Centre Shop will donate a meal to a local family in need for each loaf sold. Mark it on your calendar as it’s likely to sell out early. The Italian Centre Shop is located at 9919 Fairmount Dr. S.E.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.

Article content