Chef Rich Francis is on a food mission. Francis, member of the Tetlit Gwich’in and Tuscarora Nations and owner of the pop-up experience District Red in Six Nations, Ontario, recently took third spot in Top Chef Canada. There he introduced a nation of food lovers to modern indigenous cuisine. And in late June, he will bring his culinary talents to Halifax with Right Some Good, a food festival whose goal is to have international chefs work with local ingredients during pop-up dinners at unique venues on Spring Garden Road. The event runs from June 27 to 29.
“I have to say the best thing…about it is the creative outlet it gives you,” says Francis of the pop-up phenomenon, which he employs at District Red. “You can do things in most circumstances that you’d never do in a restaurant setting, per se. And from a business perspective, your overhead costs are minimal, so your profits are quite a bit higher.”
While this is Right Some Good’s fourth season, it’s the first time the event is taking place in Halifax. Its home for the past few summers has been communities around Cape Breton.
“It really came out of consumer demand,” says Pearleen Mofford, founder of Right Some Good, of the decision to bring the festival to Halifax. “And it expands the food journey; it allows us to take people from one end of the province to the other.”
Mofford, whose goal is to make Right Some Good the largest food festival in the country, says this year’s event in Halifax will include two pop-up dinners—one at the Stadacona Drill Shed on June 27 with Chef Cristine Bowerman and one aboard HMCS Preserver on June 28 with Chef Ed Cotton—and a Gourmet Street Fair. And, of course, there will be top talent like Francis, who will have a chance to work their magic on local ingredients.
“I am really looking forward to trying his food,” says Mofford. “His interpretation and presentation of food is very artistic.”
On June 29, Francis and 11 other international chefs, will take part in the Garland Canada Master Chef Face Off at locations on Spring Garden Road. The other talent to compete for the title are Alain Bosse, Anthony Susi, Ardon Mofford, Darin Schnert, Michael Reidt, Matt Basile, Martin Luiz Salvador, Michael Blackie, Heather Feher, Martin Juneau, Quang Dang, Vincent Croteau and Pedro Newton.
Halifax Magazine recently spoke with Francis about his what will be his first time on Canada’s East Coast, his love of Aboriginal cuisine, and his plans for his culinary future.
Why are you looking forward to coming to Halifax and taking part in this festival?
I’ve never been on the East Coast, so for one, for me to get out of Ontario and cook. But also to collaborate with some other chefs, to see what the East Coast product is and to keep driving home my concept of modern Indigenous cuisine.
What do you want people to know about modern Indigenous cuisine?
It’s basically still a concept in its infancy, so it’s up for interpretation. This really is my story; I am not trying to reinvent the wheel. What I am doing is giving you my story, my take, my concept. It’s still very young. But with Top Chef, it’s getting a lot of recognition and people are intrigued by it. As a chef, that is very exciting for me.
What do you love about working with the ingredients with that cuisine?
When you work with stuff you’re so familiar with—you look at the East Coast and the stuff from the ocean—but when I work with bison and caribou, it really does come alive because I am so familiar with it. I really gain inspiration (from it) easily.
It is a modern cuisine, but Aboriginal people have been using those ingredients for a long time.
What I do is take the traditional ingredients and I apply modern cooking techniques and my creativity, but it still falls in line with storytelling and our traditions. It all makes sense on a plate. I don’t randomly throw stuff in a pan. There’s a story behind it.
Is that cuisine connected with the buy-local movement and the concept of “use what you have?”
I know with First Nation people, it’s always been that way. It’s the way we’ve always looked at food that way; you utilized everything from nose to tail. It’s never been a catchy trend phrase with First Nation gastronomy. Hunting and foraging and gathering; it’s the way it’s always been.
What did you learn when you took part in Top Chef?
I am a better chef today having done Top Chef. It took me to another level. I get bored very easily. I think before Top Chef I was starting to get to the point where I was starting to plateau a bit. And then Top Chef pushed me to a whole new level. The chefs, the mentors, the judges…all those guys behind the scenes, behind the camera, gave us some of the best advice. These are the leaders in the industry and they are setting the pace; they know what they are talking about. Everything about Top Chef sets you up to succeed.
What do you have planned for your career?
I’d like to have various locations throughout Canada where the urban Aboriginal population is very visible—like Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto—to have a District Red in every city.
Maybe one in Halifax?
That would be perfect, yeah.
Why do you want people to come out to Right Some Good?
Come see what it is. There are no bells and whistles. I cook with a hot pan and a sharp knife. It’s my utilization of the ingredients. You might see something you’ve never seen before.
Right Some Good will be in Halifax from June 27 to 29. Additional events will take place in Cape Breton. For more information, visit rightsomegood.ca.