After his dad died when he was just 11, Paul Natrall went to live with his grandmother, along with his mom and sister. Natrall, a member of the Squamish Nation, would spend time with his grandma in the kitchen, watching her cook soups and stews and bake fresh bannock.
Those moments proved to be far more influential than Natrall could ever have imagined.
Now a 34-year-old father of six, he went on to pursue a culinary career, having trained at Vancouver Community College. Natrall today runs PR Bannock Factory (the R standing for his middle name, Roy), bringing traditional indigenous food to the masses.
“We always had a full house,” he tells the Georgia Straight during an interview in a North Vancouver coffee shop, thinking back to his days living with Grandma Sally. “She did so much cooking. I used to sit and watch her, then I started helping her.
“She was always the one to listen and to comfort me,” he adds. “So it just became a bonding time. And once I started helping her and hearing people say that they liked my food… It felt good.”
He learned from both of his grandmothers how to use game meats like elk, venison, and bison as dinner fare, with much of the meat hunted by uncles. (His favourite was elk jerky.)
Natrall—who sports several tattoos, including one of a chef’s knife emblazoned with a wolf’s head, being traditionally affiliated with the Wolf Clan—completed VCC’s 12-month aboriginal-specialty program in 2010. Now defunct, the course incorporated classic French techniques as well as indigenous cooking. He and his fellow students got to use the Musqueam Nation’s smokehouses and foraged Stanley Park for herbs.
Through his family and formal training, he developed an appreciation of and fondness for fresh, local products. (Proponents of the 100-mile diet should give credit to indigenous people, who first created it and lived it.)
“The West Coast is the backyard of my people,” Natrall says. “Hyperlocal, fresh stuff: that’s what I focus on, stuff from around here. Blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries: everybody eats them daily but how many people know they’re traditional foods?”
In 2012, Natrall travelled to Germany as a member of Aboriginal Culinary Team Canada for the Culinary Olympics, along with chefs from Vancouver Island and Northern B.C. They made a salmon platter that included confit salmon cooked in oolichan grease (“It’s an acquired flavour, to be sure,” Natrall says), barbecued salmon, wind-dried salmon, and a salmon “chop” made by rolling the centre fillet and topping it with a tea-herb crust. (Natrall spent hours frenching the fish’s bones, a painstaking process that involves ridding the tiny pieces of all fat and meat, for aesthetic purposes. It’s normally done on a rack of lamb or bone-in pork ribs; the small bones of a salmon are that much easier to break.)
The Olympic experience was a highlight of his life. Natrall then went on to work at Capilano University for two years as the cafeteria night supervisor.
Last year, he reached his goal of working for himself, launching PR Bannock Factory. He cooks out of a three-by-seven-metre trailer that is parked in North Vancouver, and he sells bannock out of a smaller food cart every Sunday at West Vancouver’s Ambleside Farmers Market. (There, he sets up a bannock bar, with various toppings to choose from, including chocolate and strawberry sauce, nuts, and coconut.)
He also runs a catering business, making everything from venison burgers and herb-and-garlic venison sausages (which he loves to serve with a bacon-and-corn relish) to smoked pork and spicy crusted elk brisket—and, of course, salmon done all ways.
Natrall’s dream is to one day have a food truck. In the meantime, PR Bannock Factory will be at the third annual Taco Fest, taking place on July 8 at Swangard Stadium. There, Natrall will be serving up bannock tacos filled with freshly made chili and all the usual fixings.
He’s also busy prepping for National Aboriginal Day (June 21). For that, he is expecting to make more than 1,500 bannock tacos for the daylong local celebrations at Trout Lake, hosted by the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre and APTN (the Aboriginal People’s Television Network).
“National Aboriginal Day is a good day to celebrate our heritage and some of our traditions, and, for me, it’s a day where I can showcase our food,” Natrall says. “Everybody knows about our singing and dancing, but how many people know about our food? It’s a big day, for sure.”