Murray McDonald is the new executive chef at the leading Indigenous-focused property in Canada, Spirit Ridge Resort — Unbound Collection by Hyatt. Nicolas Amaya photo

Murray McDonald is the new executive chef at the leading Indigenous-focused property in Canada, Spirit Ridge Resort — Unbound Collection by Hyatt. Nicolas Amaya photo

How a Newfoundlander Became a Champion for Indigenous Food in BC

Chef serves contemporary version of Indigenous recipes

By Adrian Brijbassi

Vacay.ca Managing Editor

The epiphany that sparked his dramatic decision to depart as chef of Canada’s premier luxury property took place for Murray McDonald on the edge of the land on which he was raised, doing the work he undertook to celebrate the only heritage he knew.

It was while foraging for ingredients for his dishes at the Fogo Island Inn that McDonald stood upright to stare into the North Atlantic – a body of water whose waves perpetually slap Newfoundland with salt, ocean and motivation. He recalls watching the sea and allowing a thought to slam into him like a hit of adrenaline. “Yes,” he told himself, “I am cooking Indigenous food.”

McDonald was on an outing with his apprentice, a Mi’kmaq chef, when this eureka moment changed his life’s purpose. They thought they were just gathering botanicals and plant flowers. But it turns out they were also finding a deeper link to McDonald’s past. His maternal ancestors were Inuit from Labrador and he had Métis bloodlines on his father’s side but never explored his Indigenous heritage until adulthood. The Canadian government suppressed Indigenous identity and culture for much of the 20th century, leading to lost lineage for many people.

“For me, it feels like part of my heritage was stolen away from me. I should have been raised and taught this stuff, but I wasn’t. I want to learn about this part of me, and the best way I think to do that is through the food,” McDonald says.

He has spent the last three years studying Indigenous cuisine and culture, collaborating with the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada to grow awareness of culinary traditions. Now, McDonald finds himself as the new executive chef at the leading Indigenous-focused property in Canada, Spirit Ridge Resort — Unbound Collection by Hyatt.

McDonald arrived in April to work with the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) and their expanding tourism initiatives. His vision complements NK’Mip Cellars. The winery owned by the OIB and Arterra Wines Canada has earned international renown for its collection of wines. Winemakers Randy Picton and Justin Hall have quickly become advocates for McDonald and the skills he brings to the South Okanagan Valley.

“Next door has always been trying to go with the theme about the land and that we’re Native, but it has never really hit the mark,” Hall says of the Spirit Ridge restaurant. “Murray has brought in something that is truly a little more from the land and you can taste it in the cooking.”

The restaurant has been rebranded with a name that refers to the legend of the Four Food Chiefs of the Okanagan Nation. The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry puts on a plate McDonald’s contemporary version of Indigenous recipes. He emphasizes the use of ingredients that pre-date contact with Europeans, and excludes gluten and added sugar. You’ll find bison instead of beef, menu items highlighting foraged ingredients like sumac and sage, and varieties of bannock, the flatbread that sustained Indigenous people across Canada for centuries.

“If you look at all the ways people are eating now – with the different superfoods and fad diets — Indigenous food has always been this, people just never realized it. I think it’s why Indigenous culinary is coming around and having a renaissance.” McDonald opines. “People are finally catching on that these Indigenous guys have been doing it for so long and we didn’t even know it.”

The restaurant makeover excites Hall, who is eager for the first series of wine-paired fall dinners at NK’Mip Cellars and The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry. “The things I love about the industry are getting together, getting away from technology, enjoying the experience. That’s what food and wine is about. And that’s why I like Murray so much. He makes really good food, and I try to make some good wine to go with it.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

At The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry, Chef Murray McDonald serves contemporary versions of Indigenous recipes. Nicolas Amaya photo

At The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry, Chef Murray McDonald serves contemporary versions of Indigenous recipes. Nicolas Amaya photo

How a Newfoundlander Became a Champion for Indigenous Food in BC

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Cowichan Valley WildSafeBC coordinator Amanda Crowston teaches a Grade 5/6 class at Ecole Cobble Hill last fall. (Submitted)
The bears are back in town and so is WildSafeBC

The bears are back in town so keep an eye out, reminds… Continue reading

The Regional District of Nanaimo has its sights set on busing to the Cowichan Valley in time for March 2022. (News Bulletin file)
Bus link between Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley expected by next March

Unallocated transit hours already in Regional District of Nanaimo budget

North Cowichan has heated exchange over timelines of its official community plan review. (File photo)
North Cowichan’s OCP review divides council

Tight timelines leads to heated debate

Matt Ellison was a star with the Kerry Park Islanders before embarking on a pro career that included stops in the NHL and KHL. (Submitted)
Ex-NHLers to highlight Kerry Park-Peninsula alumni games

Matt Ellison and Kyle Greentree commit to suit up in August

Aaron Stone, chairman of the Island Coastal Economic Trust, said he’s encouraged with the province providing finding for local agencies to hire staff to help get back on economic track during the pandemic. (File photo)
$70K for Economic Development Cowichan for new analyst

Temporary position to help recover from pandemic

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

Most Read