First Nations cook brings bannock to the food truck scene

Fusing various influences into one, one First Nations Calgarian is looking to introduce his local cuisine to a broader audience—and to an extent, nationally as well.

From Eden Valley, and currently a Calgary resident, Tristan Lefthand, 31, hopes to bring his signature flare with starting up his own food truck called the Bannock Mobile.

Though he doesn’t have formal culinary training, Lefthand says he has always had an interest in cooking. During his time living in the Eden Valley reservation when he was young, he says he would always prepare meals for his siblings, starting at athetender age of nine.

“My parents were never around—they were either working or had some other things to do and it just took off from there,” he laments.

“Since I can remember, I was always cooking; I love [it].

“Food, like what every other cook out there says, is a passion.”

Coming from the ground up, the Bannock Mobile, in its current incarnation is fairly barebones.

Attached to his pickup truck, the menu is pared down to three items: Bannock Tacos, Bannock Burgers,and Smokies—however, he says his fully realized food truck will likely be premiering within the spring.

Having his own initiative to start his own business, he says, is something that he knew he always wanted to do, in part because he says he knows no one approaching aboriginal cuisine; at least, not in the way he’s doing it.

“My whole thing about the Bannock Mobile is it’s going into the idea of aboriginal fusion,” he says as he hopes to mix various gastronomic flavours ranging from Mexican to Asian.

“I have my own take on beef wellington, with bannock wrapped around it; a beef and bannock stew; and my own taco,” he says. Lefthand even mentions utilizing the bread to create his own take on the Chinese dumpling.

“That’s why I like the term Aboriginal Fusion, it’s not limited to one thing—one of the first things you need to know is that first nations cuisine is not very flavourful.

“They’re all bland kind of foods.”

He says with something like the Indian taco, which is loaded with flavour, he think that’s something people are ready for.

The idea of starting his own food truck came from an interview with James Cunningham, host of the food network television series, Eat St. where he mentions the lack of aboriginal cuisine present within the growing industry.

“If you look into the food truck business [in Calgary or nationally], there’s [none that represent] aboriginal cuisine,” he says.

With bannock, an aboriginal staple, which had been introduced by European settlers, the thick, dense bread was very much akin to what French peasants did with French onion soup—it was cheap, accessible, and nutritious (although, looking at your local restaurant or pub’s menu, the low-cost isn’t so much the case any longer).

Back then, he says, “aboriginals were given rations—one of them was flour, sugar, bacon, and pig fat and they were taught how to make bannock.

“Usually it was whatever they had they would mix it [into the batter].

“Aside from dry meat, or jerky, bannock was the most available thing to us.”

Presently, he feels that, just as how versatile and popular the crepe is, bannock can be just as popular if introduced into Calgary’s burgeoning foodie scene.

“I’ve heard a lot of [flack] from a bunch of people who look down on us, things like: ‘you don’t have the training so you don’t know what you’re doing type of thing—I’m just going to bring you down no matter what,’ it’s a big motivator for you.”

Now Lefthand has his own business, one that he’s always wanted to pursue, he says it’s “fulfilled a dream” of his.

“I would say it’s liberating.”

Being the only up-and-coming food truck on the scene that’s featuring aboriginal cuisine, he also feels that there’s a certain weight on his shoulders, too, especially since the money, time, and effort is all coming from himself. Not only that but also as a culinary representative of his First Nations community.

“I’m definitely nervous,” Lefthand remarks.

He says, in his part, there’s a sense of responsibility on his shoulders for him to represent a cuisine that’s “small in comparison to everything that’s already out there.

“It’s something that’s brand new—it’s sort of pioneering, I guess. . . . especially in Alberta.

“At the same time, though, from my experience in cooking it for people [that I know within my community] and for non-aboriginals, people have already embraced it.”

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