Salmon n’ Bannock nabs national culinary award

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      Fourteen years after its founding, Vancouver’s only brick-and-mortar Indigenous restaurant is stronger than ever. 

      Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro, known for its heavenly baked bannocks, mouthwatering wild salmon, and tender big game roasts, recently scooped the Indigenous Culinary Tourism Award at the annual Indigenous Tourism Awards.

      “It’s so nice to be recognized on a national platform, and it’s so nice for my growing team,” says Inez Cook, owner of Salmon n’ Bannock and a member of the Nuxalk Nation. “There aren’t a lot of Indigenous restaurants across the country—but there are more and more growing, for sure.”

      While specifics vary by Nation and tradition, food has often been central to Indigenous cultures—and the rise in Indigenous culinary tourism helps recognize the craft and artistry that goes into creating delicious, nourishing dishes.

      “Food and culture always bring everybody together. And food is medicine,” she adds. “It all comes full circle with healing, and feeding your spirit.”

      The prize was so unexpected that Cook didn’t even know she was a finalist until shortly before the Ottawa awards ceremony. 

      Mary Point, Indigenous Relations Director at YVR Airport, accepted the award on Salmon n’ Bannock’s behalf—appropriate because, as Cook tells it, she was also pivotal in persuading Salmon n’ Bannock to expand to its second location in the airport’s international departures food court.

      “My friend Mary Point was like this little mosquito in my ear, for at least the last five years, saying, ‘We need you at the airport,’” Cook recalls. “I was really concerned with, ‘How can we showcase our foods in a faster way without losing our integrity?’” 

      Cook worked in aviation for 33 years, which gave her both an appreciation for the airport as a site of cultural exchange, and a global perspective on food. When Salmon n’ Bannock On The Fly opened in late 2022, it became the first Indigenous restaurant at a Canadian airport—though the location certainly posed some challenges.

      “A lot of international travellers, they see brands that they recognize and that’s what they go for,” she explains. “They didn’t really quite understand who we are or what we’re about, so it is a little challenging, just trying to get the message out there.”

      However, there is a market, too. Being fully licensed and able to offer a glass of wine (from Indigenous-owned wineries) is one draw. So, too, is the appeal of veracity: travellers who actively seek out authentic, real food from the places they visit. Salmon n’ Bannock’s ethos of creating “approachable” dishes from traditional ingredients—salmon wild-caught by Indigenous fishers, or wild rice cultivated by Ojibwe people for generations—integrates Indigenous knowledge and ingredients into familiar food.

      “As a seasoned traveller, when I travel, I like to have food from the land—if I go to France, please don’t take me to a restaurant that gives me an English menu,” Cook offers. “A lot of people haven’t had opportunities to try Indigenous food, unless you’re friends with somebody Indigenous, and they’re inviting you into their home … There’s so much value. Culinary tourism is really growing, and Indigenous businesses are really growing.”

      The Lower Mainland has a small but expanding number of Indigenous-owned culinary businesses. The Ancestor Cafe opened last month in Fort Langley, run by Chef Sarah Meconse Mierau of the Sayisi Dene First Nation, as only the second sit-down Indigenous restaurant in the Lower Mainland. Squamish Nation Chef Paul Natrall has piloted the Mr. Bannock food truck since 2018, and there’s a bustling scene of local caterers like Cedar Feast House, Tawnshi Charcuterie, and Salishan Catering.

      While it’s hard to quantify what winning the national award might do for Salmon n’ Bannock, Cook hopes to help inspire more people to take action—whether that’s Indigenous entrepreneurs starting their own businesses, or non-Indigenous people thinking about where they spend their money.

      “It’s really important, and brings a lot of value for the guests, to understand more of the Indigenous experience and celebrate the Indigenous businesses that are there and working,” she reflects. “I can be a role model to another little person who sees me doing it and sees value in that, and that they can do it, too—it can come full circle.”