Meet the Canadian producers at the heart of Saskatchewan's culinary capital

Home to some of the most varied farmlands in Saskatchewan, the city of Saskatoon is increasingly popular for its farm-to-fork cuisine. Here, three top producers share their passion for the country’s produce, from organic bison meat to pan-Asian cuisine.

Published 29 Oct 2021, 16:00 BST, Updated 18 Nov 2021, 16:01 GMT
The Han Wi Moon Dinner at Wanuskewin, Saskatoon. 

Chef Jenni Lessard at the Han Wi Moon dining experience at Wanuskewin, Saskatoon. 

Photograph by Tourism Saskatchewan

1. JENNI LESSARD: The chef reclaiming Indigenous cuisine 

Jenni is an Indigenous (Métis) chef hosting the Han Wi Moon Dinners at Wanuskewin, Saskatoon.  

I live on the land where my ancestors hunted and harvested for thousands of years, and I’ve always felt that in my blood. I grew up in the boreal forest of Northern Saskatchewan, with its blueberries, northern pike and wonderful smoked sucker fish, but there are different flavours and harvesting cycles across all of Saskatchewan.

I oversee the culinary portion of Wanuskewin's Han Wi Moon experiential dining events in Saskatoon. The three-course evening meal uses locally foraged ingredients, while Indigenous teachings are shared through traditional storytelling, drumming and singing. The experience is staged on traditional lands overlooking the Opimihaw Valley and South Saskatchewan River.

Bison is one of my preferred proteins to cook with. They’re a huge part of both the Métis [people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry] and First Nations Culture, having kept us alive and thriving for many years. They disappeared from the plains for over 150 years, however they’ve recently been reintroduced. It’s great to see them back grazing on the land and they give the meal a special flavour — both historically and culinarily. For the main course, I’ll serve a bison tenderloin with yarrow and sage, seared atop a nettle and sunchoke purée. The nettle is harvested from right underneath the historic buffalo jump, and it’s finished with chanterelles and rosehip butter.

As a Métis chef, my first consideration is always: are the proper protocols in place to honour, protect and respect the land we source our ingredients from? That’s a big cultural perspective that might differentiate Indigenous tourism from other forms of tourism. Every time you visit a different part of Canada, there’s a different Indigenous cuisine. It varies considerably.

I’m excited to put my own stamp on ingredients that my ancestors have been eating for thousands of years. I don’t think my great, great, great, grandma would’ve put chokecherries in a vinaigrette to go over a butter-basted pickerel, but it’s nice to feel the connection and still be able to pave my own path.

John Cote: co-founder and distiller at Black Fox Farm & Distillery, Saskatoon. 

Photograph by Tourism Saskatoon

2. JOHN COTE: The seed to sip craft distiller

John is a co-founder and distiller at the Black Fox Farm & Distillery, Saskatoon, which produces award-winning single origin spirits. 

With more hours of sunshine per year than any other Canadian province, Saskatchewan is renowned for producing some of the world’s finest, heartiest grains. My wife and I spent our careers in farming and decided that if we could grow the best grain we could also produce the best whisky. We wanted to make a typical Canadian whisky, so we used a wheat/rye hybrid, triticale, which was developed on the prairies in Saskatchewan and works wonderfully; it has a beautiful flavour, like rye, but it ferments like wheat.

Saskatchewan’s variable climate provides a unique environment in which to distill and age spirits. We age our whisky under the prairie skies, so it goes through -40C winter winds and hot summer sun. These temperature swings add to the ageing process and give the whisky a unique flavour. The whisky barrel is a reactor — you want the liquid inside to react with the wood; when it’s cold, it squeezes everything out of the pores of the wood, and when it’s warmer, the wood softens, and the whisky absorbs and then marries those flavours together.

Different grains create different flavours when making whisky. Corn creates a sweet, creamy flavour, while rye creates a more spicy, grainy texture like bourbon.

Guests can learn about how we produce our gins and whiskies — from cultivation to distillation — on a guided tasting tour. We wanted to offer this experience so that visitors can see what we grow and to give them the chance to be outside and be a part of Saskatchewan’s incredible nature. This worked well for us throughout the pandemic, as people cherished the idea of being with friends but at a safe distance. We also grow flowers and pumpkins, which visitors can harvest when in season.

Andy Yuen: chef and co-owner of Odd Couple Restaurant, Saskatoon. 

Photograph by Dave Stobbe

3. ANDY YUEN: The Chinese-Canadian chef 

Andy is a chef and co-owner of Odd Couple restaurant, Saskatoon, which is a modern take on Chinese-Canadian food, merging pan-Asian flavours with local Saskatchewan ingredients. 

I was born and raised in Hong Kong and immigrated to Saskatchewan in 1996. I’m an engineer by trade but grew up in the Chinese-Canadian restaurant business with my family, which is what I’ve come back to with my wife, Rachel. Our restaurant is a modern take on Chinese-Canadian food, merging pan-Asian flavours with local ingredients with only one rule: no MSG [the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate]. I want my guests to enjoy an elevated version of Chinese-Canadian cuisine, so we showcase the elegant side of it using local ingredients with Asian techniques and flavours.

Canada is an immigrant country, and that’s what we are and what we do. We merge Asian flavours and culinary traditions, while simultaneously celebrating Saskatchewan’s best local ingredients. We like culinary mashups; for example, we have a brunch dish that flips the traditional chicken and waffles into a kung pao chicken with Hong Kong bubble waffles. We use free-range chickens from Pine View Farm, which is an organic farm north of Saskatoon. We also have a fun breakfast twist on a pad thai with bacon, also sourced from Pine View Farm, and our house-made pork sausages and free-range Saskatchewan eggs.

We started our ‘Travels with Odd Couple’ menus in the pandemic. We wanted to experiment with our own interpretation of classic dishes, tie in Saskatchewan’s best local produce and also use it as an opportunity to support local businesses. 9 Mile Legacy Brewing creates a beer for each menu, our friends at Fable Ice Cream, in Saskatoon, create a custom flavour for us, and we’ll use fresh pasta from the Prairie Pasta Lady at Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Italy is next — I’m excited about our take on a margarita pizza using a tomato red curry and Thai basil with a rice paper crust.

For more information and to plan your trip, visit Tourism Saskatchewan.

Join our Saskatchewan Travel Geeks event online on 23 November 2021. 

Published in the December 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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